It’s a bit more difficult to pin down what Chrome OS and Chromebooks are these days. Although they started simply as a glorified browser OS running on low-power cheap laptops, the product line has stood the test of time to now include high-end hardware, convertible form factors, and support for Android and Linux apps. Part of the confusion in defining Chrome OS can sometimes be gleaned in half-baked features. Today, however, Google closes one of the gaps by making Chrome OS’ tablet mode really feel like you’re using a tablet.
Chromebooks have long had touch screens even before they started adopting 2-in-1 convertible forms that flip the screen backward or even detachable devices that split the screen from the keyboard. While Chrome itself and some apps, especially Android apps, do respond properly to touch interactions, interaction with the operating system itself was still based on an older mouse-centric paradigm.
As leaked and hinted before, Chrome OS is adopting some touch-based navigation gestures from its cousin, Android. A full swipe up from the bottom dumps users immediately to the home screen while swiping up and holding your position will show the overview of running apps arranged in a grid. Swiping from the left edge is equivalent to the Back action while a small swipe up will bring up the Quick Shelf.
It isn’t just global navigation that’s getting touch-friendly controls. The Chrome browser itself, for example, will make use of a new tab switcher that shows tabs in mini-windows on a horizontal panel. You can even reorder those tabs, something you can’t do on Chrome on Android tablets.
Whether these new features are also usable outside of Tablet Mode, Google isn’t saying. Still, it does go a long way in making convertible and detachable Chromebooks easier to use as a tablet. Almost ironically, it comes a time when Google itself has reportedly ditched any and all of its Chromebook tablet plans.