Google Chrome Redesign & New Tab Page Rolls Out To All

If you thought you were safe from the Chrome browser redesign and updated “New Tab” page, parts of which Google previously killed off this spring before it hit the Stable channel, think again. Last week, the company said that the new look was going to be rolled out to Chrome stable users (the default download for the general public), and as of today, that staged rollout is beginning to wrap up. In other words, if you haven’t gotten the updated look already, then you will very soon.

These changes are a long time coming. Google has been testing a New Tab page and other features since last December. Initially, the company did away with the eight links to your most-visited websites which appear as thumbnails on Chrome’s New Tab page. Instead, it offered just four links and a big Google Search box. But that particular move proved to be very unpopular. With the latest update, Google responded to feedback by bringing back all eight tabs.

Chromium Blog post

In addition, the company had earlier experimented with adding an “Apps” tab to the bookmarks bar, while removing the usual shortcuts to web apps from the Chrome Web Store from the second page of the New Tab page. This change, however, remains. The second page with all your Chrome Apps is now gone, replaced by the Apps button in the toolbar.

Also gone is the bottom menu you could click to quickly access your most recently closed tabs. Instead, you now have to click on the top-right menu (the icon with the three horizontal lines) to access this feature.

Unfortunately for those who didn’t care for the earlier update, the latest update may generally disappoint. While Google has acquiesced on the number of most-visited sites to display, it has decided to again include the large Google search box above these links, along with the big Google doodle, too. That makes the thumbnail images appear much smaller than before which does take some getting used to. For websites that have a largely white background, for example, you’ll have to look for the site’s favicon at the base of the thumbnail instead of the background image itself, in order to know which is which.

The choice to add the Google Search box to the New Tab page is also somewhat odd, given that one of Chrome’s better features has always been its “omnibox” – the address bar at the top of the browser works as a way to navigate directly to a website if the address is typed in, as well as an alternative to navigating to to kick off a keyword-based web search. With the update, you now effectively have two search boxes on your New Tab page – the search box and the omnibox.

New Tab

As Google explained back in December, the reasoning behind this change came from observations of real-world user behavior. Apparently, many people still navigated away from the page to initiate their web searches. What’s left unsaid, of course, is that some subset of those users may have been navigating away from Google to do so, and potentially ended up on competitors’ search engines.

(Side note: Something about being forced to have a less-than-functional experience because of having to cater to a large, mainstream user base that doesn’t understand the omnibox’s functionality, brought to mind a favorite scene from Parks & Recreation: Jerry, you don’t deserve the Internet. But I digress.)

When Google announced in August the arrival of these changes on its Chromium Project blog (Chromium is the open source browser project Chrome is based on), the company also noted that by adding the search box to the New Tab page they found the feature was improving the average time from query to answer – meaning that people were finding what they were searching for more quickly.

When your browser receives this latest update, you’ll know. Upon first launch, you’ll get a pop-up message announcing the changes, and you have to click an “Okay, got it” button to dismiss. This message can also be accessed again from the bottom-right blue link on the New Tab page that says “Chrome has updated.”

Finally, the New Tab page features Google+, Gmail and Images links at the top right alongside your Google+ notifications. And in another odd duplication, an Apps Tab is present here, as well.

New Tab apps

Although the changes may be rolled out, or nearly rolled out, to all Stable users as of now, user feedback and behavior will continue to refine the New Tab page’s appearance going forward, as Google remains a data-driven company. So if everyone could please start using the omnibox again, that would be great.

[View the story “Google Chrome Updated ” on Storify]