As Chrome OS has matured, one of the biggest areas of change over the past 18 months has been in the tablet mode department. When we talk about upcoming features and UI changes, those updates largely circle around the way that users will change how they navigate Chrome OS specifically in tablet mode. From new gestures to multitasking tricks, Chrome OS has completely overhauled the general UI for users on tablets and convertibles over the past 2 years.
What about the good old clamshell, desktop mode, though? After all, with Chromebooks, this is the mode we tend to frequent the most and it is the part of Chrome OS that I’d argue has changed the least over the years. It’s why we were so excited by the development of virtual desks and why we can get so amped up about new tablet-focused UI changes even though we tend to use our convertible Chromebooks primarily in clamshell mode. New stuff is fun to see, mess with, and start using when it shows up. With the desktop UI being based on other operating systems that predate Chrome OS, the tried-and-true windowed UI doesn’t really think too far outside the box and that’s OK. When we hop into a desktop environment, we generally want to get things done. Fancy UI, tricks and animations are fine, but more than anything we need the OS out of the way and doing its job.
Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t like to see new stuff show up from time to time to give the desktop UI a bit of a new, updated feel. Between a window-based UI, window snapping, virtual desks, and the Chrome tab UI, there’s not a whole lot we’re left pining after from a productivity standpoint. However, there are things that are small, handy fixes that just plain make better sense when you see them implemented, and this new feature is one of those things.
Much like the quick shortcut used to snap windows left or right by long-clicking the maximize button (between the standard minimize and close buttons found at the top-right of every window in Chrome OS), this quick feature will make multi-window productivity much faster and easier than before. The Enable Clamshell Split View feature is looking like it will arrive in Chrome OS 83 and perhaps still be behind a flag for now. You can head to chrome://flags/#drag-to-snap-in-clamshell-mode to enable this new feature if you are currently in the Dev or Beta Channels of Chrome OS.
In a nutshell, this new feature will allow users to go into overview mode and then grab and drag any open window to either side of the screen to snap that window into place at full height and 50% width. It is the exact same thing we see in the tablet mode of Chrome OS, and I think there will be many people who find this to be a massive productivity boost. If you bounce between open windows quite frequently, you know how quickly your desktop can get crowded. Many times what you really need is the ability to get the two windows you are working in side by side quickly. This usually involves going into overview mode, getting window A in focus, snapping it to the side, going back into overview mode, bringing window B into focus, and then snapping it to the other side.
With this new Clamshell Split View feature, you get to skip steps and simply drag the two windows you want to either side of the screen and then get to work. For users that need side-by-side apps on a frequent basis, the cumulative time savings could be pretty substantial over the course of weeks. Again, this is a small feature that, in the end, doesn’t do anything you couldn’t accomplish prior. Instead, it is a refinement of an existing functionality that will serve to make Chrome OS just a bit more productive. We’ll be looking for it to arrive alongside Chrome OS 83 before the end of May.