TechCrunch writes that Google is in the process of killing the URL bar from its Chrome browser. To be fair, this is not recent news. Google has been exploring various UI configurations to its Chrome browser for for most of the last year, and the information looks to have come from the Window UI page from the Chromium documentation project.
It’s also worth noting that the proposed UI change appears to have found its way to the Android Honeycomb browser:
Either way, the direction for Chrome is interesting, and for a number of reasons, it makes sense.
Apple has demonstrated that there’s a great economy in apps, but “app” is an increasingly diffuse term, considering you can create quite complex create apps in HTML and a number of new non-platform-native technologies.
If Google can change the public understanding from an app being something you download and install to rather being a place you visit, the change can help inventorize the web. The result could be easier to make discoverable to users but most importantly, it could be monetized. On the old web, you’d visit The New York Times and throw up in your mouth at the paywall. On the new web, you’d visit The New York Times and get all the free content, but have an option to buy a premium web-app which stores your access credentials while it serves as a bookmark.
The URL bar is the commandline, and like iOS doesn’t need a commandline for you to launch Angry Birds, Chrome doesn’t need a URL bar for you to launch Facebook.
A few weeks ago, I created a Chrome web-app to see how the Chrome web-store works. That app has now been installed a couple of hundred times a week, even though the app is merely a glorified bookmark for a Google service. If we can learn anything from this, it is that pointing at a large fingerfriendly icon on your new tab page is quicker than typing in a URL or clicking a small navigation bar bookmark.
But what about search? Search is the core of Googles business, and Google won’t revamp a proven UI without good reasons. While putting apps front and center makes a lot of sense, there’s a UI challenge in having both search and apps front and center.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Internet Explorer 9s new UI which disconnects the URL bar from the tab:
But with the emergence of Chrome Web-Apps, which are just around the corner, there’s a new, albeit not super strong, argument for disconnecting the addressbar from the tab, and that is that it’s still, despite web-apps, a place people use to launch new webpages. In the case of the omnibar, it’s also where people start searching. In Chrome Web-Apps […], the omnibar is hidden when you’re inside, say, the Google Maps web-app. How do you launch a new page or search? You have to click “new tab” in order to get the omnibar back.
The solution could be putting the omnibar on the new tab page. Clicking “new tab” would then set text focus on the search field:
It’ll be interesting to see where Google goes with this.