Everyone reading this probably uses multiple tabs on a desktop computer, but on mobile, tab management can be tough. On and Android tablet, Chrome looks like a real browser with a top tab strip, but on a phone, you don’t get any kind of tab UI. There is a button that will take you to cascading UI of different Chrome windows, but a one-tap tab strip hasn’t existed on Chrome for phones—until now!
A new Chrome for Android experiment, first spotted by Android Police, will add a tab strip to the bottom of the Chrome window. Tabs take the form of site favicons, and just like on a real computer, a single tap will switch between tabs. The currently active tab gets a little close icon next to it, meaning that tapping the tab again will close it. An “X” button to the left will close the tab bar entirely, while a plus button on the right will open a new tab.
For now, the feature is in Chrome Beta for some people, and you’ll need to turn on a flag to enable it. To turn it on, paste chrome://flags/#enable-conditional-strip into the address bar, hit enter, enable the flag, and restart. Right now it can be kind of finicky to pop up at first. When I first open Chrome, sometimes I have to tap on the old window-switcher button to make the tab strip appear. This is just an experiment, and Android Police says it plainly doesn’t work for some people. So there is probably a server-side switch involved, too.
This UI seems like a big improvement over the current version of Chrome. The lack of a tab strip on mobile has made managing multiple tabs a real pain, and Chrome’s separate window-changer page has a number of problems. First, the button for it (number with a square around it) is all the way at the top of the phone, which makes it hard to reach. Second, it’s just a number, and the lack of page titles or favicons gives you absolutely no context for what other tabs are open. Third, it’s really clunky to use, requiring a tap on the button, scrolling through the list of thumbnails, and another tap to load a new page. All these problems make the Chrome “tab” button really easy to just ignore and never use.
Faster, easier, closer
The tab strip is faster, easier, and closer to your fingers than the old window-switcher button. The favicons provide context about what tabs are open and what tabs are easy to close, and the growing line of tabs encourages you to actually close unwanted tabs. The strip auto-hides just like the address bar does, appearing when you leave the window alone and moving out of the way when you scroll the page. If you have too many tabs open, you can horizontally scroll through the tab strip with a swipe. If you’ve ever used a desktop browser, you instantly know how this works, and it seems crazy it’s taken this long to develop.
Hopefully, Google keeps this feature around. The Chrome team has been known to launch and then kill experiments like this without them ever hitting the stable channel. The tab strip is built off of a previous experiment that enabled tab groups on mobile (just like on desktop), which had the tab strip confusingly only show up inside a tab group. Now, a regular old tab strip makes a lot more sense.
Listing image by Chrome