The tablet-focused mode of Chrome OS has been a work in progress for a few years now. Reaching all the way back to Chrome OS 70, the true tablet-focused setup for Chromebooks, convertibles, detachables and tablets has been a constant source of change and newness ever since that update showed up. That actually happened weeks before the unveiling of the ill-fated Pixel Slate as Google tried to rush and get a more tablet-friendly UI ready for their first official Chrome OS tablet.
As history will show, that effort did not work and did not pan out well. What it did do, however, is lay a base for what tablet mode on Chrome OS is becoming, and that is a very good thing. It has taken quite a bit of time, but as we get closer to the arrival of the second real wave of Chrome OS tablets and detachables, it feels like Google has finally ironed out a ton of the early issues with tablets. Multitasking, overview mode, gestures, and general usability is improving rapidly, and there’s a trick that is now part of the Chromebook tablet experience that we’ve not seen before.
This hearkens back to an old feature available on Android when the navigation was handled by three icons on the shelf. The far-right icon was a square and it handled the multitasking operation. All you had to do was click that button once to bring up whatever version of app overview that Android was doing at the time and a simple double-click of that button would quickly switch back and forth between the latest apps opened.
Unbeknownst to us, this is the behavior currently with Chrome OS, too. In tablet mode, there are gestures to get to your overview mode (swipe down for now, but will be changed to a swipe up like Android and iOS/iPadOS currently are), but there’s also a little button that sits down by your clock. This button is the simplest way to bring up overview mode, but it turns out it is also capable of doing a quick-switch action if you double-press it. We were alerted of this by a reader, grabbed up our Pixel Slate, and saw it in action. It was one of my favorite quick tricks on older versions of Android, so I like seeing it on Chromebooks, too.
I’d wager this feature may get the ax when the full version of the new tablet mode UI hits Chrome OS in version 81. In the Developer Channel right now, we have the new multitasking UI that we made a video about not long ago. With the new gesture UI, there is a flag to remove the home and back buttons, and when turned on, it also removes the multitasking button. If it turns out all of these buttons go away in the future, I’m not sure this feature will be around at that point. Try it out while you can and, if you enjoy it, use it before you lose it.