June 23, 2021

Chrome OS is testing a new launcher with old vibes


It’s been several years since Google overhauled the app drawer for Chromebooks. It replaced the aging “card” launcher with a touch-focused one, bearing a striking resemblance to Apple’s Launchpad for macOS. While it brought usability improvements to touchscreen Chromebooks, the experience is largely unintuitive with a mouse. Worse, the launcher feels slippery and unpolished, even on a tablet — Google is testing some improvements to fix this. Your mouse woes may soon be over, though, as Google is testing a completely redesigned launcher that’s much more mouse friendly.

Chrome Story recently uncovered a new launcher in development that aims to optimize access to apps, app content, and app actions. If you’re living dangerously on the Canary channel, you can try the new launcher right now by copying and pasting the following URL into Chrome’s address bar:

chrome://flags/#productivity-launcher

To evaluate an enhanced Launcher experience that aims to improve app workflows by optimizing access to apps, app content, and app actions. — Chrome OS

You’ll see a brand new UI after pressing the launcher button on the taskbar.

The redesigned Chrome OS launcher.

The new launcher is reminiscent with the “card” design found in older versions of Chrome OS. Its compact design doesn’t obscure the entire screen like the UI used today, instead occupying space on the left side of the screen. The launcher’s 4×5 grid scrolls vertically like the Pixel launcher, and now moves much more smoothly. Tablets will still have the old app drawer even with the flag enabled — which totally makes sense given its touch-centric UI.

The placeholder text, broken search, and lack of Google Assistant is a reminder that the new launcher is still early in its development. Even in its unfinished state, the new UI looks good. It solves a big usability gripe I have with today’s Chrome OS launcher when using a mouse or trackpad — this design aims to solve that.

It’ll take some time before the revamped launcher arrives to everyone on the Chrome OS Stable channel, but I’m excited where Google is going to go with this experiment. It may finally be serious about making a competent app launcher — here’s hoping that Google will finally allow us to sort apps alphabetically in the not-so-distant future.

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