Google is now beginning to roll out an update to Chrome OS 81, delivering Android like browser tab switching and a new gesture-based UI. That's based on recent reports citing an announcement from the search giant.
Now, this update is arriving a bit later than initially scheduled and the alterations were previously spotted on the way. But those changes cannot be overstated. Each is going to make using Chromebooks or Chrome OS tablets with touch interactions far more intuitive. To that end, the biggest change arriving with Chrome OS 81 is its new gesture-based UI.
With the update to version 81, Chrome OS users on tablets or 2-in-1 Chromebooks will first note a brand new shelf design. That's replaced by a slender bar at the bottom of the page when users are in an app or the browser. A new swipe-up gesture on that navigates users back to the home screen — the app launcher, in this case.
Swiping up and holding the line opens up the Overview pane, allowing for easy navigation between apps, windows, and desktops.
The shelf itself has been redesigned as well, taking on a more Android 10-like pill shape. That's scaled back in size too. Now, in clamshell mode or with a keyboard accessory, the shelf shows more wide-open space on the home screen.
Swiping in from the left-hand edge, meanwhile, now navigates 'back' whether in an app or in the browser.
Android-like tab switcher UI appears now too, but in a limited capacity
The second feature arriving now will only be available in a limited capacity. Namely, it's only going to appear in Tablet Mode and on select devices — specifically, the brand new Lenovo Chromebook Duet tablet. Google says the change won't stay limited for long but also hasn't provided a specific rollout date for other devices. For now, the company only says it's coming "soon."
Previously spotted in testing, that's the new tab strip UI for Chrome OS, making its first appearance in Chrome OS 81. As its name implies, the tab strip UI replaces the current line of small tabs found in Chrome OS and in Chrome on desktop platforms. That's being replaced by a numbered, Android-like square icon next to the URL Omnibox.
While the removal of the standard tab strip will certainly free up space, its what happens when the square icon is tapped that gives Tablet Mode users the bigger advantage. When tapped, that showcases a scrollable row of large thumbnail previews for open tabs. That way, users can more easily see what tabs they have open and navigate between them.
To the far right of that scrollable bar, users will find a 'plus' icon for opening new tabs.
Chrome OS will roll out slowly but will deliver other changes too
As suggested above, this rollout may take a bit longer than usual due to external factors but it isn't just tablets that will see new features either.
The final change announced by Google today is the arrival of Picture-in-Picture mode for all Android apps downloaded from the OS's Play Store. That will work for all Chromebooks, rather than just tablets or 2-in-1 gadgets.
As is implied, the addition of PiP mode means that any app displaying media will be able to automatically shrink down upon users' navigating away. The window will then remain accessible but in a smaller format. That allows users to keep working elsewhere without losing the media in the background.