Just a bit over a year ago, we saw the arrival of Chrome OS 70 and all the new tablet UI features Google had been working on in preparation of the launch of the Pixel Slate. As we all know, those features weren’t even close to being ironed out when the tablet launched onto the scene and what happened after was a tad sad and disappointing for those of us rooting for Chrome OS to break through as a worthwhile tablet OS.
Fast forward to current day and the now year-old tablet UI is finally starting to mature a bit. The biggest hurdle currently facing Chrome OS tablets is the general lack of them available for users to try. One way many people describe the iPad is fun. It is fun to navigate through a user interface with flicks and gestures that work. Sure, iPad OS has become a tad complex and all the gestures aren’t exactly intuitive out of the box, but moving around its interface is pretty snazzy when you get the hang of all of it.
When the Chrome OS tablet UI really kicked into gear, that’s what we were all hoping for: productive, Spartan Chromebook by day, fun tablet mode by night. As we all know, that didn’t exactly pan out and Google’s departure from the tablet hardware game made it seem that Google was done trying. That’s not the reality, though, and we’ve previously reported Google continuing to develop and nurture the tablet side of Chrome OS. Today is a similar addition to Chrome OS tablets, and it looks to be a sign of some really interesting features to come.
So, what is it exactly? Spotted over on the Chrome OS Reddit by Brandon Lall, a flag called Enable a modular design for the shelf (chrome://flags/#shelf-hotseat) can now enable a new modular shelf for tablet mode that looks quite different from anything we’ve previously seen on Chromebook. Right now it doesn’t do much other than put your app shelf into a floating pill when in tablet mode, but the addition of the thin white line right under it gives us quite a few clues as to what the devs may be up to here. Take a look at the photos below.
If you turn on this flag while in the Dev Channel and then set your shelf to auto-hide, you’ll only see this new shelf when your app drawer is open or when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. While the modular app tray is reminiscent of the iPad’s version of the same thing, the more interesting piece on offer here is the little white line beneath it. It currently does nothing, but it is a clear addition that will bring about some form of Android 10’s gesture navigation. I’d imaging the ability to quickly swipe through open apps with a left or right swipe on the bar and perhaps even the ability to enter overview/splitscreen mode with a swipe up from this bar instead of the swipe down we currently use.
This all would make a ton of sense from a user perspective. Think about what users are going to get used to on phones moving forward now that Google has basically copied the iOS gesture navigation. I’ve been using it on my Pixel 3 XL for a few months now with the Android Q beta program, so now I follow the same gestures on my phone and my iPad and expect the same response in general.
It makes sense that Chrome OS will adopt this in tablet mode as well. Swiping down from the top to multitask in tablet mode was really a Windows 8/10 thing, but there are relatively few users who leverage Windows tablets on the daily. By sharp contrast, millions of users navigate iOS, iPad OS, or Android, so getting Chrome OS tablet mode to behave the same would only make the transition easier for general users who are approaching Chromebooks for the first time.
Again, none of this works quite yet, but you can rest assured that when it does, we’ll take the new gestures for a spin, get it all on video, and make sure you are the first to know about it.