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Ex-Google Employee claims Chrome Ditched Redesign Similar to iOS 15 Safari

Apple recently redesigned its Safari browser’s interface on iOS 15, iPad OS 15, and macOS Monterey. The address bar now sits at the bottom of the screen. Amongst other updates, there are also tweaks in the way users switch tabs.

Apple claims that this newer redesigned Safari is “reimagined for the way we browse today.” According to Apple, the floating address bar on Safari “maximizes your screen space and stays out of the way as you scroll and explore.” While being rather heavily criticized by some users, Apple believes that its upgrades are worthwhile.

How does Google come into the picture?

So Google seems to have run at this race, way before in 2016. According to Chris Lee, a former Google designer, the tech giant has tried a similar approach to redesign its own home-grown Chrome browser. Google had undertaken the development and redesign for their browser’s mobile app. This would be called the “Chrome Home”. Lee wrote that their approach was very similar to Apple’s with Safari.

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Lee wrote this on his personal blog (via 9to5Google). He was a staff interaction designer at Google at the same period. Lee claims that he had created the “original concept and pitch” for the “ambitious redesign of mobile Chrome’s main UI.”

Chris Lee’s Comments on the cancelled Chrome update

Lee writes, “It brought Chrome’s toolbar to the bottom of the screen and turned [it] into a peeking panel that could be swiped to expose additional controls.

If a user wanted to access the Discover and recent sites, Downloads, Bookmarks, and History, they needed to simply swipe up on the address bar. The other features had been made accessible in a menu. The menu option was an ellipsis (three-dot) icon. This helped consolidate key browsing options. Additionally, it also simplified one-handed operation for users in an era of increasing screen sizes.

According to Lee, the Chrome Home “caught traction internally, eventually becoming a Chrome org priority.” But after initial live beta tests and sustained experiments, they got “a mixture of reactions.”

He writes, “The feature gained a cult following among the tech community, but for many mainstream users, the change felt disorienting. Chrome serves billions of users around the globe with varying tech literacy. Over the course of many iterations, I became increasingly convinced that launching Chrome Home would not serve all our users well. So just as strongly as I had pitched the original concept, I advocated for us to stop the launch – which took not a small amount of debate.

The redesign plan was killed off in 2018. According to Lee, their efforts didn’t go wasted. Even though Chrome Home was short-lived, it gave them a valuable lesson. A lesson about “the intentionality needed to innovate within a product of massive scale.”

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