Google is completely abandoning its bid to create a touchless version of Chrome, based on a recently spotted change to the browser’s underlying code. The commit in the Chromium Gerrit is relatively short but the implications of it are much broader. It reads “Remove touchless* with the exception of Blink code.”
That effectively works as a signal to Googlers working on Chrome to stop creating new code.
More directly, that’s explicitly for instances where touch interactions aren’t a factor. It also signals preparation to delete those files that have already been created. That includes hundreds of files across a broad swath of the browser’s code base since touchless Chrome has been in the works for the better part of this year.
Google is leaving code for touchless Chrome from third-parties
The removal of “touchless” code from Chrome’s repositories may not be the most interesting development with the changes. While undoubtedly disappointing to some, the code also indicates Google’s decision to leave all of the associated “Blink code.”
Blink is typically the code associated with rendering and behind-the-scenes computations. In fact, it’s the part of Chrome that’s being utilized in Microsoft’s new Chromium-based Edge browser. For Microsoft, that’s going to mean quicker updates and better stability with extensions. For other third-party developers, Blink is a means to create alternative browsers wholesale.
That doesn’t change the fact that Google seems to be giving up on its own iteration of touchless Chrome. But other developers can still work with the code that’s left behind. Specifically, that means that developers could feasibly still create derivatives of Chrome for devices without touchscreens.
Whether or not any such projects come to fruition remains to be seen but it is still a possibility.
But why the changeup?
The reasons behind Google’s decision to abandon touchless Chrome remain a mystery. That predominantly comes back to the fact that it wasn’t clear why the browser variant was being worked on, to begin with.
Speculation about the browser mostly centered on the rise of another operating system for mobile devices in India. Namely, that’s KaiOS and it doesn’t rely on touch interactions at all. Instead, KaiOS is a popular operating system for what boils down to “feature” phones. That includes devices will comparatively tiny screens and just a few physical buttons.
Initially, it was thought that Google was working on the Chrome variant in order to bolster its position in India. At very least, it might have helped Google’s brand recognition. KaiOS was experiencing rampant growth when the code was first spotted.
Another possibility may be that a new version of Android had been planned to compete in the world’s fastest-growing mobile market. That bid would likely have abandoned touchscreens for significantly cheaper displays and buttons.
Those would have basically been Android devices but there’s no clear indication that was the case either. Since Google has now effectively killed off any first-party prospects for a new Chrome browser that doesn’t require touches, it almost certainly isn’t going to happen now. Google might pick up the code on future projects but any touchless version of Chrome is going to rely on other developers for now.