How To Use Overview Mode & Switch Apps Quickly On Chromebooks

Chrome OS camera icon AH 2019

Chromebooks have come a long way over the past year but one of the most useful and its overview mode is one of the easiest to learn how to use. For those who own 2-in-1 Chromebooks that can be folded into tablet mode or a Chrome OS tablet, that mode comes with one extra benefit. Namely, that's Android-like quick app switching. But Chromebooks also provide a way to create and use multiple desktops.

While the two related features are easy to use once they're learned, that doesn't necessarily mean either is intuitive. But the guide below should help to significantly clarify how to use both overview and quick app switching in Chromebooks.

Quick switching apps in tablet mode on Chromebooks

Quick app switching is likely going to prove to be the most useful feature, especially for those who have used Android before. It works almost identically to Android for Chromebooks, but with a different icon in use. For clarity, it allows users in tablet mode — whether on a 2-in-1 or tablet Chromebook — to rapidly swap between the most recently used apps.


Where does quick switching work in Chrome OS

Overview 01
In tablet mode, the overview icon is located at the bottom right-hand side of the UI

Now, because this feature is tied to an icon that only appears in the app shelf in tablet mode, it will only work on the two above-mentioned categories of device. For 2-in-1 Chromebooks, it will only work when the device is folded into tablet mode.

The icon in question is identical to the Chrome OS keyboard icon for entering overview mode. The exception is that it's placed directly on the screen, next to the Quick Settings and clock on the Chrome OS app shelf. Specifically, that's located to the right of the clock. A single tap on that will place users in overview mode.

The Android-like tap gesture

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A single tap on the overview mode icon will bring forward all open apps, double-tapping rapidly switches between the most recent

While tapping the overview mode icon is useful for switching between apps and windows, it isn't the fastest way to accomplish that. That's especially true when a user is only really utilizing two apps. Just like Android, Chrome OS actually allows users to rapidly swap back and forth between two apps.

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The method for accomplishing that is really very easy too, even if it isn't necessarily intuitive outside of Android users.

To swap between two applications rapidly, users simply need to double-tap that same overview icon. Tapping twice slowly will simply enter and exit overview mode but tapping quickly will switch to the most recently used app.

There is some lag the first time the system performs the action but that clears away after the initial app switch.


How to use overview mode and multiple desks in Chromebooks

Of course, overview mode isn't limited to tablet mode for Chrome OS tabs or 2-in-1 devices. Overview mode is also available with a keyboard attached or on other Chromebooks and how to use it is equally straightforward. It also comes with the added perk of tacking in multiple desktops for even more productivity. Those are only available outside of tablet mode.

How to get to the overview mode on other Chromebooks

As with utilizing rapid app switching, getting to overview mode requires one fairly simple action. On the Chrome OS keyboard, OEMs include a key that looks like a box next to two lines. That's the same icon as in tablet mode, as shown in the first portion of this guide. Tapping on that will bring up the same overview mode.

Switching apps

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The New desk button is located at the top-right-hand side of the overview mode UI

Also similarly to tablet mode, switching between apps on a standard Chromebook is easy. All that's required is a single tap or click on the desired app. Unfortunately, there's no quick switching here, so a double-tap or click won't accomplish that same action. But users will have access to the above-mentioned multi-desk feature


Using multiple desktops

To utilize multiple desktops, Google has included an easy-to-spot "New desk" button at the top right-hand side of the UI. Clicking that will create a second desktop, shown at the top bar of the overview screen.

Once the new desktop is open, users can switch between the two by tapping on either desk in overview mode. From there, apps can be opened in either and they'll be confined to their respective desktop. That means users can set up groups of apps that will be used for different tasks. Then they can switch between the apps and those tasks simply by switching desktops.

Conversely, users can click or tap and drag the apps to the desktops in the overview screen itself.