Chrome on Android 12 may come with the return of a revamped older feature, allowing users to keep multiple windows — or instances — of the browser open at once. That’s based on a recent report from XDA Developers, highlighting changes in the underlying code.
The term linking the changes in the Chromium Gerrit repository is the tag “multi-instance,” immediately betraying their purpose. And among those changes, is the addition of a new “new window” option in the three-dot menu of Chrome. Specifically, that appears when the device is put into split-screen mode. And tapping that opens a new window for Chrome in the second segment of the split-screen.
From there, a new button is added to the context menu, dubbed “manage windows,” that does precisely what its name suggests. Allowing users to see all open windows, which of those are being used at the moment, the title of the current tab for each, and how many tabs each has.
What are the limitations of multi-Window Chrome in Android 12?
Now, there are some limitations — some of which some will consider caveats — with the changes in place. Not least of all, only 5 windows can be opened at once. However, there are also no limitations on the number of tabs each window can hold and they’re stored in such a way as to allow them to stay open through a device reboot.
Secondary to that, albeit more pertinent, Windows are all shown as their own apps in the Recent Apps view. That’s where this most recent change bears the most similarity to older versions of Android. Specifically, to pre-Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Prior to that update, Google had added a similar change. That allowed tabs to be shown as separate apps in the Recent Apps view but kept all tabs in the same window. And that’s how this will work too.
That means that users who like to keep a clean Recent Apps window will probably want to avoid using the desktop-like Chrome multi-window support in Android 12. But those who do need multiple windows for organization purposes will undoubtedly find the option useful.
When will this arrive for end-users?
This change is available via Chrome flag settings, for those users who are already taking part in the Android 12 Beta program. Those are found at the “chrome://flags” URL behind a search for instance-switcher. Once enabled, users can access the new feature via the Chrome Beta, Dev, or Canary apps.
Of course, this also relies heavily on Android 12 itself. So those who don’t have that yet will need to wait. And it will ultimately be up to users’ device OEMs when that arrives. Android 12 is expected to be finalized sometime in September, although that hasn’t been confirmed as of this writing.