Google is Adding a Touch-First App Launcher to Chromebook

Posted on July 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 19 Comments

Google is experimenting with a touch-first full screen app launcher for Chromebook that it hopes will bridge the gap between traditional web-based apps and Android mobile apps.

“The Chrome OS team is experimenting with a touch-friendly version of the launcher in the Canary channel,” Chromium evangelist François Beaufort revealed. (Thanks to Android Police for the tip.)

To see it in action, you need to enable the following flag via the address bar:


Then, press the Search key, which works a bit like the Windows key on Windows PCs: It displays the app launcher, instead of a Start menu.

Beaufort provides a nice video rundown of the new app launcher as well. From what I can see, this UI should work well for keyboard and touch users. It looks pretty sharp.


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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Google is Adding a Touch-First App Launcher to Chromebook”

  1. Mharm

    Finally the shell gets an update to unify all of this!! Now we just need the chrome tablets based on the Pixel C architecture to emerge and Google has the whole ecosystem covered!!

    Then if Microsoft can get app devs into UWP with Cshell and Windows S and that could spark a second chance on Mobile, we consumers might actually get some choice!!!

  2. dcdevito

    Seems as if chrome OS is finally coming to the tablet form factor. They need to do something to fend off the mighty iPad.

  3. Jorge Garcia

    So many normal people detest Microsoft's Windows that all Google had to do to win them over on the home PC front was create a desktop environment that "looked and felt" a lot like Windows, but was also compatible with all of their favorite mobile Apps. This could have been accomplished rather "easily" by making a desktop/laptop "MODE" for stock Android. Instead, they went with weird ChromeOS, something which has to be "explained" to normal people (instant fail), and something that doesn't even really support Android Apps in the way it should, natively. It's one plaster job after another with ChromeOS, because it is was a dead-end, and I bet Google realizes it now.

    • rameshthanikodi

      In reply to JG1170:

      Agreed, Chrome OS is a mistake, Google should have put Android on laptops. Chrome OS is mostly like it was on day 1 - an OS with just the browser. Google's grand plan to get Android apps working on Chrome has failed spectacularly. People need rich apps, not just web apps. All the "strong gains" people are talking about for Chrome OS are the same people who would not afford such a level of doubt for other things like Windows 10's marketshare and call Windows 10 adoption a straight failure. I see the double standards, and i'm not buying it.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to FalseAgent:

        Note that Chrome OS has a DOSBox app, and that's hardly just a browser page in separate window without browser controls. For that matter, try out the gliffy app.

        There aren't many standalone offline Chrome OS apps because the potential customer base is only about as large as for Windows phones. However, Chrome OS has the capability to handle fairly complex PC-like software.

        Chrome OS in developer mode also has crouton, which allows a full desktop Linux environment via chroot. It's also possible to install and load a second desktop manager which makes it possible to run GUI Linux software directly under Chrome OS without crouton (but it's MESSY!).

        Point is Chrome OS isn't incapable. Rather, it's locked down. A lot like Windows 10 S, just that Chrome OS has a much better browser.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to JG1170:

      Chrome OS does extremely well in the education market but is making strong gains on the business market too. Even the consumer market is showing gains - just look at Amazon's top sellers.

      • Jorge Garcia

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Well sure, after all this time, people are desperate to find something less complex than Windows, and ChromeOS is their only non-mobile choice, save for MacOS which is too niche and pricey for many. But just imagine if, during the dark age before Windows 10 came out, Google had marketed something that looked and felt like Windows, but was actually Android under the hood and therefore could run all the apps people have on their would have established a much larger market share in a much shorter time. As usual, the incompetence of its competition is what gives MS a new lease on life.

        • Waethorn

          In reply to JG1170:

          Android would never work as a PC replacement because of Google's OEM agreements that permit full customization of the OS.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to JG1170:

          . . . could run all the apps people have on their phones . . .

          This is the HUGE assumption too many people make: that most people want to do the same things on PCs and phones.

          I believe Apple got this one right. Most people want to do different things on PCs and phones.

          Yes, some games should be on either. Also some basic capabilities should be on both, e.g., browser, e-mail, calculator, social networking, but that doesn't mean most people would want to use the same browser, e-mail, etc. on large screen and physical keyboard+mouse as they would on a small screen phone. TBH, MSFT's UWP Calculator app is about the only thing I can think of in Windows which makes sense to be the same on PCs and phones.

          Putting this a different way, for the best Android phone apps, would they really be improved running them on screens 4 or more times larger in area, or running in windows the same size as phone screens on large monitors? How about needing to reach out to use touch on large screen monitors? I figure Google has been slow bringing Android to laptops for the simple reason that Android is much less satisfying on larger screen devices.

          • Jorge Garcia

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            Seeing how no one has successfully tried it yet, except Microsoft, the only company without a decent app store, how do we even know? My suspicion, based on how I see young folks, family members, colleagues interact with their laptops every day, is that they would love to be able to access the same mobile Apps on their laptops. In fact, they probably expect it all to work by now and are let down when it doesn't. I believe that is one of the major things stopping regular people from buying laptops...the lack of "casual/light-work/mobile-ish" apps on Windows, ChromeOS and MacOS. We live in an age where it's all possible, the only thing stopping it is the lack of implementation from the people who have the smarts to put it together. PhoenixOS, RemixOS, Sentio and DeX all exist for a reason...people are getting fed up with PC's that don't do everything they should in 2017.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to JG1170:

              Seeing how no one has successfully tried it yet, except Microsoft . . .

              Requires correction. No one has tried it yet, except Microsoft, and Microsoft hasn't been successful.

              Apple doesn't try at all. Google doesn't very hard -- there are some Android netbooks on the market, but they clearly haven't become hot. Only MSFT has been trying since Windows 8, and it definitely hasn't worked for MSFT.

              Maybe MSFT's failure has been due to Windows phones failing to catch on. MSFT also didn't help itself by cancelling Project Astoria. Whatever, MSFT definitely doesn't want anyone using Android apps under any version of Windows.

              If you believe casual/light-work/modile-ish productivity apps don't exist for Chrome OS, that would indicate you haven't tried using Chrome OS in the last 2 years. Granted you need a decent internet connection, but with one you can use Google's own apps, MSFT's web apps, Zoho Office (IMO, the best of the online productivity app suites today), rollApp and some others. You could also use all that under Windows 10 S. I don't know for sure what may be available on Android laptops, but I suspect Android laptops could handle all of these too.

              • Jorge Garcia

                In reply to hrlngrv:

                I feel like we don't disagree that much. MS failed because they are starting off from the wrong place. I can say assertively that a lot of regular people have no desire for a full PC OS that can impersonate a tablet...what they want is a tablet that can turn into a reasonably useful productivity station when called upon. I will always argue that having two different "modes" (as MS discovered, the hard way) is the best way to do that, but that's a different discussion. Apple is eventually going to get their sliver of the population off of macs and into the Post-PC world...and Google will too, most likely when project Fuchsia rolls around, YEARS behind Apple. I just think it's just a shame that Google lost all this time putting makeup on weird ChromeOS and force-feeding it to schools, etc. when something far more obvious could have caught on by now. They didn't even have to call it Android, just tell people here is a nice shiny laptop, it opens office documents, has a version of Chrome, and whatever else you might desire, well there you go, it has access to the Google Play Store. Sure, you'd download some apps and a friendly message would say "Note, this mobile app's interface is not optimized for your device, but will still run", but even so, how would that not be very compelling laptop to anyone other than us die-hard MS fans who read Thurrott?

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Re enterprise market, if the enterprise has an application server farm and used Citrix or VMWare (or others) for RDP, Chrome OS machines are fine terminals. I prefer my Chromebook to my work-provided Dell laptop because my Chromebook can display 1536x864 rather than topping out at 1366x768.

  4. Martin Pelletier

    Nice.., Google gonna beat Microsoft again.

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