Smartphones are getting more powerful and larger to the point that some of the hard limits of the past no longer really apply today. Multi-tasking has become more important as phones gain more RAM, and having more than one app open at the same time is a staple feature on tablets and the new breed of foldable devices. Despite those changes, mobile apps are still limited to the old “one instance” or “one window” per app convention from the first few years of smartphones. Google could be changing that with Chrome running on Android 12, allowing users to have as many as five instances of the web browser.
Limiting how many instances or windows of an app is running at any given time made sense a few years back when phones were simpler and smaller. These days, many users, even those with traditional “candy bar” phones, juggle multiple apps and accounts at a time, pushing manufacturers to support “dual app” features, though mostly for social media and messaging apps. As mobile devices get more sophisticated and browsing habits more complicated, the desire to have something similar for web browsers has also started to gain traction.
It seems that Google will finally let that happen, at least with Chrome, later this year. XDA spotted changes in the Chromium and Android source code that introduced a flag in the development version of the mobile browser that flips on this power-user feature. Once enabled, users will be able to “move” a tab to another window, creating a separate instance of Chrome.
This “multi-instance” feature would allow up to five Chrome windows to run simultaneously, whether side-by-side in split-screen mode or even just in the background. Each window can have as many tabs as you need, and the Android Recent Apps overview will show each window as a separate entry. In other words, this almost puts Chrome for Android on the same level as its desktop version in terms of multi-tasking.
This upcoming Chrome on Android 12 feature fits perfectly into the growing trends in the smartphone market. Many OEMs are now supplementing their RAM with virtual memory, for example. This also feels like a preparation for Google’s own foldable phone since opening a new Chrome window feels almost natural with such a larger screen.