Touchscreen Chromebooks will get a dynamic Material Theme UI
The Mountain View tech giant has been putting a lot of attention on their web browser lately. It makes a lot of sense too as Chrome is the most used browser worldwide (with partial help thanks to Android). The company just recently rolled out a new Material Design style to most platforms. One platform that I haven’t seen it pushed to (at least in the stable channel) is Chrome OS, but that Material Theme refresh is currently being worked on and it seems to be part of a more dynamic user interface feature the team is working on.
Chromebooks themselves have gone through quite the evolution over the last 5 years or so. Initially scoffed at for not offering enough, a Chromebook can do everything a lot of people need these days as so many services are moving to the web. When that shift began, the price point of Chromebooks helped increase sales and now we’re to the point where there are expensive, high-end Chromebooks and others where you can detach the screen and just use it as a replacement for your Android tablet.
So engineers at Google have noticed some of these new Chromebook devices are able to go from regular laptop mode with a keyboard and mouse to a touchscreen-only mode. These two features tend to conflict with each other as it’s beneficial to have a user interface that is optimized for touch screens. However, using that same type of user interface with a keyboard and mouse isn’t optimal at all. We recently discovered a commit in the Chromium Gerrit and while it hasn’t been merged yet, when it does it will add a new option to the chrome://flags/#top-chrome-md flag. This new option will be called “Dynamic Refresh” and eventually this Dynamic Refresh option should be set by default on touchscreen Chromebooks.
When testing this out on my Google Pixelbook, I went ahead and took some screenshots so that you can get an idea as to how things look. The first screenshot is how my Google Pixelbook looks when I have Chrome open. It’s using the older design, but thanks to the chrome://flags/#top-chrome-md flag we can change this. There are a number of options to choose from here but we want to focus on Refresh and Touchable Refresh. Refresh makes Chrome OS a bit more compact where there is less padding between the tabs and other UI elements.
This makes sense for a device that is currently in ‘docked mode.’ or one that doesn’t have a touchscreen at all. Then, to the far right, we have the Touchable Refresh option which is strikingly similar looking to what they recently rolled out to Windows. But if you do a comparison, you can see that UI elements like the back, forward, refresh, tabs, and even Chrome extensions have more padding to make them easier to tap. This reduces the missing the UI element you’re trying to tap, and it makes perfect sense when you think about the rumored 2018 Chrome OS device from Google and its detachable screen.
You can manually switch between Refresh and Touchable Refresh, but no one wants to do that every time you switch to tablet mode. This would allow Chrome OS to automatically switch to the touch-optimized Material Theme UI when the device is in tablet mode. That would be a very handy feature and we hope to see it soon.