Google is working on a “major” overhaul of its Chrome browser user interface (UI). Among the options on the table is the elimination of the URL bar, which could be the most significant UI change to the web browser since its invention. Another feature that appears to be already signed off is the support of multiple user profiles that can be used in parallel.
The Chrome browser as well as the Chrome OS interface could see some big changes in the near future. Google’s Jeff Chang told Chrome developers that “there are a number of UI / frontend” efforts under way. He intends to provide weekly summaries about the progress of the work, “fit for public consumption.”
The last dramatic change of the Chrome browser UI came with Chrome 6 back in July 2010, when Google nixed the Stop and Go buttons and when it merged the Page and Tools menus. Back then, I already called Chrome the “naked browser” as it set the trend in reduced user interfaces, which aim to increase the viewable space for web and application content. Chrome led the pace, but it is IE9, which has the most efficient UI at this time, in terms of available pixels to web content.
New navigation models
Google is working toward an improved Chrome UI that could be even more radical and eliminate the URL bar altogether. According to the Chrome UI variants page, Google is currently thinking about four different layouts – with four different types of navigation: The classic navigation version, compact navigation, sidetab navigation as well as a touchscreen version. Google said that it is “interested” in developing all four versions, but current builds of Chrome “are focused on classic and compact navigation styles.”
It is somewhat surprising that Google is not pursuing the sidetab navigation version, which has been supported for several months via a flags option in Chrome. The company said that this layout would waste space for users who do not use many tabs, that it only works nicely on screen layouts that are 1366 pixels wide and that the layout does not relate well to Chromium browser overall.
The most dramatic modification is something Google calls a “compact navigation” model. The idea is to eliminate the two line navigation layout which currently has tabs on top and the navigation buttons, menu and URL bar below. The compact navigation model would only have one line and place the navigation buttons, a search button, tabs and menus next to each other. The URL bar is gone and the URL of each tab is not visible at all times, but only displayed when a page is loading and when a tab is selected. In effect, there are now multiple URL bars that are integrated into tabs.
Google noted that this layout has the advantage that it saves content area real estate, that search can be used as a “launcher and switcher”, that it can be applied in a flexible way on larger screens and possibly be switched with a classical navigation layout and that apps can provide a better user experience “with full control of their content area.” As downsides, Google mentions that the URLs are not always visible, that navigation controls and menus are not located within the tab and lose context sensitivity, and that that tab strip is rather crowded. There is a note that these layouts aren’t final and that the designs may change, but it appears that Google is trying to find ways to reduce the browser interface even more.