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9 New Features Coming to Chrome OS — From Trackpad Gestures to Multi-Profile Sessions

Google describe Chromebooks as the ‘always up-to-date computer’, with fixes, updates and new features continually applied silently in the background. 

This is a great approach: why trouble the user into doing something they’re going to want to do anyway? The flip side of this is that new features and functionality arrive unannounced, meaning users are often left unaware that their devices can now do some neat new tricks.

Below is a small selection of improvements currently being tested, tilled and tweaked in the latest Chrome OS development and beta builds. They’re not all headline features, but all will add to the Chromebook experience. Stable users can look forward to discovering these in the coming months.

chromecast-tile1. Chromecast Streaming Fix

We’ll kick off with a pet hate for many: having to keep your Chromebook opening when ‘casting’ a tab, app or media to a Chromecast-enabled TV.

A fix that allows Chrome OS to remain streaming when the lid is clamped shut is in testing on dev builds. It works in much the same was as the ‘docked’ mode when hooked up to an external monitor; all processes and features remain active, but the screen is turned off.

Expect to find it in the Stable channel sometime in April.

Screenshot 2014-02-24 at 19.32.42

2. New Audio Player

We previewed the new-look Chrome OS audio player in a separate article recently. In short, it revamps the look of the app, and adds some natty new features, like independent volume control and shuffle/repeat buttons.

While it may be a couple of months before the changes filter down to stable builds the changes are substantial enough to be worth waiting for.

Again, those on the Dev channel can try it out now.

3. Three-Finger Exposé

Chrome’s handy new ‘window spread’ feature has been present and working in Stable for a couple of months now. With a quick tap of the Window Switcher key you can call up a tiled overview of open applications to quickly pick the one you need.

Chrome Overview Mode

To make the feature even easier to use Chrome developers have added a new trackpad gesture: swipe up with three fingers on a supported trackpad will trigger the spread, while reversing the gesture will shunt all windows back to where they were.

If you’re already on the Dev channel you can try it out now.

Multi-account Chrome os4. Multi-Profile Support

Multi-profile support is a headline feature currently in testing in the developer channel.

When enabled, it will allow multiple user accounts to run in the same desktop session at the same time — no need to log out and sign in to a separate session.

So, for example, if you’re working in your ‘main’ account but want to quickly edit a file stored in your ‘work’ account, you can switch to it without having to exit your current session, and switch back when you’re done.

If that doest sound seamless enough it’s also possible to ‘teleport’ windows and apps, such as a browser session or  File manager, from one of your accounts to the desktop of the other. This lets you, for instance, run two separate account instances of the file manager on the same desktop so you can drag and drop files between them.

The caveat to multi-profile is that anyone with access to the chief account will be able to access other accounts once configured as they don’t require password entry upon switching.

wallpapers5. New Wallpaper APIs

Ever wanted your Chromebook wallpaper to change based on the time of the day? Or randomly grab a new wallpaper each day from a certain website?

New APIs on the way to Chrome will allow application developers to craft funky new wallpaper apps able to do just this.

6. Black & White History

Chrome already makes it easy to move back and forward through browsing history with a two finger horizontal swipe. But a forthcoming change intends to better differentiate between ‘past’ pages and the current ‘top’ one.

2 finger swipe in chrome os

How? In the latest dev channel it renders pages further down the visiting stack in black and white.

ephermal apps7. Quick App Info

A new ‘App Info‘ option is currently being tested behind a flag in development builds.

The feature adds a new entry to the menu that appears when right-clicking on a Chrome App shortcut that offers a quicker way to view permissions and information of an app without having to go to the Chrome Web Store.

If you’re on Chrome OS Dev you can already try it out by flicking the –enable-app-list-app-info switch in chrome://flags.

Chrome OS Keyboard

8. Android-Style On-Screen Keyboard

Whether you use it for accessibility reasons or because you’re lucky enough to be rocking a touchscreen Chrome device, Chrome’s on-screen keyboard is getting a new look — one that has been redesigned to match the look of the Android on-screen keyboard.

It’s available to play with in the latest Dev builds of Chrome OS, where it can be enabled through System Settings > Accessibilty.

9. App Launcher Folders

Support for creating, sorting and arranging apps into folders has been in gestation for a while but is almost ready to land by default shortly. By dragging and dropping app shortcuts on one another new folders can be created.

Screenshot 2014-02-17 at 20.16.26

Folders can also be named, edited and even pinned to the App Shelf.

Windows and Linux users, in addition to those on Chrome OS, can expect to find new animations and improved support for adding and removing apps when it arrives.

  • Nic Gillespie

    I wonder with the on-screen keyboard if they planing ChromeTablets, I know I would be all over that.

    • Curtis Mitchell

      Lenovo is supposedly making a Yoga transformer for Chrome OS so the on-screen keyboard would be pretty useful for that

      • Nic Gillespie

        Man if they did that under $500 I would be all over that ChromeBook

    • Curtis Mitchell

      Lenovo is supposedly making a Yoga transformer for Chrome OS so the on-screen keyboard would be pretty useful for that

  • miri

    The touch pad gesture is a part of overview mode. It should already be on all channels.

  • The three-finger swipe gesture has been in stable for at least a month. I started using it when I bought my HP 11 a month ago. I’ve never ventured out of stable release.

    • That’s what I get for dredging up a draft started a few months back (and not having a Chromebook on stable)! I’ll swap it out for another feature. Thanks

      • These things happen. And there are probably people who didn’t know about that feature.

        • Doug Smith

          I read this and discovered 3 finger swipe works on my HP Chromebook 14; currently on stable release, version 33. Also discovered, to my delight, that sideways scrolling with two fingers now works. Maybe Google should add a Release Notes page after an update? Love this puppy!

  • What ever happened to the screen saver support?

    I saw Beaufort mention it about a year ago.

  • Nick Fortag

    Is that some type of an Add-On on number 8? The Good Evening thing.

  • moe

    I think a native app that would allow users to customize the desktop in having different looks and color schemes and designs would really personalize the experience. Imagine being allowed to control where you want to receive your notification on the screen and what color they appear in rather than having one bar that includes all, and you can do is only rotate it. Now same new concept with Google now, being able to put all of that how and where you want it would be great. A link to give you an idea of how this can look, elementary os is an example.

    • Sebastiaan Franken

      No, the ease-of-use is because the UI is so simple and can’t be changed radically. This works wonders for new users and users who have used Windowze. If you want more options, install Linux.

      • Wyllie Young Wylls Chilunga

        install linux or a different version of linux? cause in the end chrome os is linux

    • Efjay

      I actually find the uniformity of Chrome OS quite attractive, also for support purposes or following tutorials for example, it helps if different users are looking at the same thing in the same place. Also Chrome OS allows a lot of personalisation through Chrome themes and wallpapers which can be tailored to taste.

  • Lou G

    What would be nice to have is a button combo or something that would turn off the trackpad if you have a mouse in. Yes, I know, I can press control+alt+t and go to the crosh but then as soon as I turn off the machine, it turns right back on.

    Ah well, it’s a minor thing.

  • Jason Romero

    All I want is music manager support, its so little to ask :(

    • blazewon22

      Amen! It’s been over a year…

  • arpudha singam

    Our Customer Need VLC Which Player Will Play All Format Video.

  • Dirk Sholar

    I want to get the Samsung Series 3 model and I didn’t know if that CB can accept any new updates now. Cause I heard it won’t accept ChromeOS 33. Is this true

  • Wyllie Young Wylls Chilunga

    Does Xorg work with Touchscreens? o.O

  • The folders and the music player are great additions.

  • TheLinuxMinecrafter

    Me upon seeing window spread: Hey, that looks familiar. (I use Ubuntu)

  • Anthony Marincas

    When are these features coming?

  • Leo Bryce

    It would be nice if you could use two or three finger horizontal movements during the window spread to select which window you will enlarge when swiping three fingers back into the full screen. Currently only the most recently-enlarged window will re-enlarge upon swiping. Defeats the purpose if you have to move the arrow and click on the window you want.