Chrome Will Get Smartphone App Screens

We have little doubt that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is preparing its Chrome browser for a major UI overhaul again. Following our previous report of the possibility of a dropped URL bar, we are now seeing the first example of Google's new Chrome start screen, which will work pretty much like the app screens on your smartphone.

I have to admit that we are sometimes getting confused whether the browser will be running apps or whether the browser in itself will merely be an app in the not too distant future. On the phone, we believe, the browser has pretty much lost the battle. However, on the desktop the browser remains the key to content, and it appears as if Google is preparing its Chrome browser to become a much more app-friendly interface. The "start" and "new tab" page may look entirely different in the future.

There is still the configuration option that the browser opens any page you like when opening a new tab, and there's still a basic page or set of URLs that are opened when Chrome is booted. However, the "new tab" page is now by default (and subjectively) prettier and focused on apps (you have to enable this feature in about:flags, where it is listed as an "experimental new tag page").

It may not look like much at first sight, but you quickly notice that you can drag the entire page with the mouse to the left and to the right, much like you would "slide" an app screen on your phone to the side. However, there's only one active page at the start, and there isn't much to slide initially. To create a second page, select an app icon and hold the left mouse button down. Similarly to Android, you will now see a second page being created, as indicated by a second square at the center bottom of the "new tab" page. You can drag the selected app to that page on the bottom. The squares represent app pages and can be selected with a mouse click on the respective square. There is also a garbage can, which allows users to remove installed apps.

The new feature is in its early stages, and there are plenty of bugs: You can't, for example delete app pages anymore once they have been created. I noticed that I would actually want to use some of my bookmarks as apps, but there is no way to easily convert a bookmark into an app. I found it to be an interesting concept, which, however may be somewhat confusing, especially if you have a large 22- or 24-inch screen on your desk. Do you really need that much space for Web apps?

Of course, you don't on your desktop. The source code of the "new tab" page, however, reveals that this design may be especially catering to touchscreen applications, and we wonder whether we are seeing here one of the advanced features of Chrome / Chrome OS for future touch-enabled notebook and tablets. In case you are wondering, this browser did not yet support the direct launch of Web apps from the URL bar.

Eagle-eyed users may have also noticed several new switches among the hardware-accelerated plug-ins. It seems that Google has quite a few features cooking, and Microsoft and Mozilla will have to keep a close eye on Google to see where Chrome is going.

We noticed the app screen feature in Chrome in Chromium version 12.0.709.0, which uses Webkit 534.26 and V8 3.2.3.1.

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