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July 12, 2018

Google’s Chrome desktop browser is about to receive a major facelift

by John_A

If you subscribe to Google’s nightly build of Chrome “Canary,” the latest release for Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS now sports a much-needed facelift thanks to the new Material Design user interface. The new look is set as the default, providing enhancements to the boring outdated Chrome design with a rounded address bar, rounded and colored browser tabs, and new omnibox suggestion icons.

“MacOS users can set experimental flags chrome://flags/#top-chrome-md to ‘Refresh’ and enable chrome://flags/#views-browser-windows to try it out now,” says Google evangelist François Beaufort. “Note that it’s still being actively developed and that you may stumble upon bugs.”

Material Design is a design language introduced by Google in 2014. It’s based on the “card” layout used in Google Now that borrows from traditional real-world paper and ink designs. It attempts to emulate physical substrates in a virtual environment, rendering crisp edges and shadows that give depth. Material Design infiltrated Android 5.0 and is slowly becoming the default visual design across all Google apps and services.

“Material Design is guided by print design methods — typography, grids, space, scale, color, and imagery — to create hierarchy, meaning, and focus that immerse viewers in the experience,” Google says. “Material Design is inspired by the physical world and its textures, including how they reflect light and cast shadows. Material surfaces reimagine the mediums of paper and ink.”

The user interface for Google’s Chrome browser has remained mostly unchanged for many years. You can alter its appearance to some degree by downloading and installing themes from the Chrome Web Store, but they merely change the background colors of the Start page, toolbar, tabs, and so on.

The fact that the Material Design user interface is now appearing in Chrome Canary means Google is making progress on getting the new interface into a stable build. If you’re curious to see what Material Design is about, be warned: Chrome Canary isn’t a stable version of Google’s browser. It’s a nightly build that has yet to be thoroughly tested, introducing new features along with potential show-stopping bugs.

But also keep in mind that Material Design is an ongoing project thus aspects of Chrome may change based on feedback until the user interface is ready for primetime. Google supposedly made major changes to Material Design earlier this year to support a tool called “Material Theming” for designing interfaces. Gmail’s redesign on the web was part of that overhaul to the design platform.

Google is expected to make Material Design the default user interface in the stable version of Chrome on September 2, the browser’s birthday. That means the new interface must survive the design changes in the Canary, Developer and Beta channels before it goes mainstream in less than two months. We shall see if Google succeeds in making that anniversary deadline.

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