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Hosted Apps on Chrome OS Will Soon Look Like This

new streamlined apps thumb

New approach proposed for Hosted Apps

Google is working on a new look for ‘Hosted Apps’ in Chrome OS, one that puts navigational controls directly into the window frame.

Also known as ‘glorified bookmarks’ and ‘URL Apps’, hosted apps are websites and services that can be installed from the Web Store or created through the browser as shortcuts. They have their own app icon on the App Shelf, appear in the App Launcher and open in their own window rather than a new browser tab.

Examples of ‘hosted apps’ include Gmail Offline, Spotify and any website you create yourself through the Menu > Tools > Create Shortcut link.

Hosted apps are not as elegant, seamless or as integrated as regular Chrome Apps, and most cannot work offline. But they serve a purpose in helping bridge the regular web with the web-centric desktop.

Current Experimental New Look Less Than Ideal

Google has been experimenting with several ways to improve the appearance and navigation of these web-based apps in Chrome OS for a while. In fact, you may have already enabled the ‘streamlined hosted apps‘ flag in Chrome OS yourself.

Toggling the design change on, for all of its well-meaning intentions, ruins the simplicity of the basic, default framed website style, shown below.

Hosted Apps Are Framed By Default

Hosted Apps Are Framed By Default

How so? By showing the regular Chrome toolbar — the one you see in a regular browser window — in the app, complete with URL bar, extensions and menu. The look is, as one Chromium developer describes it, ‘broken’:

“Seeing the toolbar for streamlined hosted apps is really confusing. It looks more like Chrome is broken and the tabs disappeared than a deliberate option.”


Behind a flag: current approach to streamlined apps

Proposed Material New Look

But the Frankenstein design above may never come to be. Since the public announcement of Material Design many of Googles sites and service have been earmarked for a material makeover. Chrome OS is no exception.

A tentative design proposal for Streamlined Hosted Apps in Chrome OS shows how the simplicity of the default framed approach can be combined with the functionality of the experimental version.

How? By embedding control elements into the window frame itself:

new streamlined apps

Proposed new look for streamlined hosted apps, with menu open

In the mock-up above, which is attached to the Chromium Bug tracking the issue, we can see how this works. The back button, title/URL, padlock/favicon and menu button are embedded directly into the window frame itself. This is not only a great use of (otherwise wasted) space, but it also looks great, too.

Subject to Change, Naturally

There’s no definite word on when the proposed design is going to (excuse the pun) materialise in code, so it may be a while before we can try the natty new window control elements for ourselves.

Things may change between now and whenever that is, of course. But given how fast the Chromium development team is at hammering ideas into working code, I’d wager we have it in our hands sooner rather than later.

Do you like the new look? How would you handle windowed URL apps in Chrome OS? 

  • Excited for more Material Design to make it into ChromeOS :D praise Duarte!

  • Mark Dodsworth

    I don’t understand why they need the URL bar in these apps? The back button and refresh I understand but why the URL bar?

    • I think it makes sense to include the host name and whether or not it’s secure.

      • Mark Dodsworth

        But how important is it to permanently show this to the user? If you have installed the app you know the name and have agreed on the permissions. It’s nice to have a link you can share but that could be hidden in the menu if you need it.

        • I agree. The only thing having the address bar visible does is remind me I’m not using a ‘real’ app.

        • At minimum, HTTPS security should be indicated somehow.

          • Mark Dodsworth

            From the menu button you could see stuff like that and the URL. No need to show it constantly on every app.

          • It’s always necessary to show authenticity and security of the connection. If you’re entering or viewing sensitive data, it should be obvious that the connection is secure (or not). It doesn’t have to be an abrasive design.

  • Heimen Stoffels

    I wonder if this is gonna be true, given the mockups we’ve seen of the new ChromeOS Material Design that was posted recently… the whole UI is gonna change if those mockups become reality.

  • Heimen Stoffels

    Btw, in the newest ChromeOS dev build, there’s no more toolbar when you enable the streamlined hosted apps flag.

    • Strange. These screenshots were taken in the latest dev build.

      • Heimen Stoffels

        I believe you, but I’m using the latest dev build as well and I don’t see any toolbar in hosted apps anymore (they were there when I was still on the beta channel). Not sure what’s going on then…

  • I hope there will be an option to enable/disable this. Sometimes I like having bookmarks to my favorite sites in my apps menu. But some, like Google Play Music for example, would definately be better as a separate window.

    • Daniel Huls

      This is already enabled in Google OS Beta Channel. Example: “right click” on Google Maps in the App Drawer and click on “App Info.” Select “Open as Window (or Maximized).” The app will now alwasy open in a window and not within the Chrome Browser. No flags needed and you can select each app’s setting individually.

  • TonyL

    The new “Open as Window” is now fully implemented on my Chromebook stable channel. You get the choice of whether to open most things as either tabs or windows. So you keep control of how you want to see things. I quite like it, but you then have to use overview (f5) or ALT-tab to easily switch between apps, rather than just click on a tab. Currently there is nothing to tell you whether you are connected to a secure site – which in my view is very bad practice.