Google Chrome is getting a full-scale Material Design 2 revamp on its birthday

Google Chrome is getting a full-scale Material Design 2 revamp on its birthday

Back in February, we reported on a mysterious reference to “Material Design 2” in Google’s open source repository for Chrome and Chrome OS. Shortly after the publication of that article, the reference was quickly scrubbed as the commit was made private. One month later, Google quietly re-opened the commit for public view with some interesting changes made. It appears that the reference to Material Design 2 was a misnomer as the intended term for the linked change is supposed to be “Touchable Chrome.” However, a comment made by a Googler doesn’t rule out the possibility of a revamp of Material Design and instead hints that the browser will receive a full-blown redesign on Chrome’s birthday: September 2nd.


Material Design 2—Touch Optimized Chrome or Something More?

For context, Material Design is the term for Google’s design language that launched with Android Lollipop. You’re probably familiar with the interface by experience if not by name: Its flat, pastel color palettes are a staple of Android apps across the ecosystem. The design has even made its way over to other software products made by Google.

When we first spotted references to a successor, there was little information available about it. Our very own Kyle Wiggers put together some excellent mock-ups of the color changes he spotted, but unfortunately, there was no way to actually see for ourselves what it would look like on an actual app. The commit that first mentioned MD2 has since resurfaced, and we can see that all references to “Material Design 2” have instead been replaced with “Touch Optimized.”

So what’s going on here? It appears that, internally, Google was working on a revamped UI for Google Chrome but hadn’t settled on a name. One engineer who was responsible for implementing the UI changes for the Chrome tab and tabstrip accidentally referred to this revamped, “touch optimized” design as our mysterious MD2. After this was pointed out by us (and dozens of other websites), the commit was quickly made private as it was sending the wrong message—not that Material Design 2 didn’t exist, but rather that this instance wasn’t it.

For reference, this is what Google is talking about when they refer to “touch optimized” Chrome. We’ve been tracking something called “Touchable Chrome” for the past few months. According to the various commits that we spotted, this appears to be a revamping of Chrome to be better optimized for tablets and Windows convertible devices. It’s possible to enable this new UI by going to chrome://flags/#top-chrome-md in the latest builds of Chrome Canary or Chromium and setting it to “touchable.”

The biggest difference is that all of the elements become much, much larger. This makes it easier to hit the buttons with your finger. The Touchable Chrome interface is clearly in preparation for a wave of Chrome OS tablets that are now confirmed to be coming, starting with an Acer device. Mystery solved, right? Wrong.

Google Chrome with Material Design 2 coming in September

A very interesting comment was made on this commit while it was private. The comment states that this touch optimized revamp of Chrome isn’t MD2 (which we know already), but it does say that the Material Design revamp is “still being designed and won’t look like this in any case.” But the real kicker is what I believe was accidentally slipped in here from a Googler: “Are these actually MD colors? They’re not in the Chrome Birthday deck with the full-scale MD2 design.

Material Design 2 Android P

The implication is rather obvious: Google is planning on a full-blown Material Design 2 UI revamp on Google Chrome’s birthday: September 2nd. The MD2 revamp can be enabled at the same flag listed above, though currently, it doesn’t seem to change very much. We’re pretty far away from September 2nd, however, so expect to see a lot of changes being made to Google Chrome’s interface in the coming months.

As for the relation to Android P, it’s possible that this redesign also encompasses the changes we’re seeing in the first developer preview of the latest Android release. Chrome OS 67 is testing similar changes already, though we don’t have any confirmation that Google intends to roll out a new unified design language for Android, Chrome OS, and Google Chrome. We’ll probably hear more about Android P during Google I/O next month where we also expect to learn more about MD2.

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