With its rapid release cycle, Chrome updates have never been full of new features or changes; even so, version 31 could stand between them as one of the most uneventful updates. The official announcement for the beta is focused more on the new staff in Chrome for Android, where apparently most of the development is taking place these days – there and in Chrome OS. The desktop version of the browser added a number of new APIs – notably for better autocomplete in online forms – and tools like Portable Native Client, allowing web apps to run at speeds similar to native apps. The other new APIs also help Chrome apps interact more tightly with local data: the Chrome Desktop Capture API allows extensions to capture content on screen or individual windows/tabs; chrome.sessions gives access to recent tabs and browsing history – hopefully enabling developers to build better, full-featured replacements for the New Tab Page; the chrome.fileSystem API allows extensions to read and write entire directories on the hard drive; packaged apps can declare the URL patterns the app wants to intercept and handle, so those URLs will be opened directly in the app instead of the website version.
The only major change to the user interface concerns the ‘Feedback’ dialog, which, if all goes well, users should have to use very often. It has been redesigned to look more like an independent app: instead of a new tab, it now pops up in separate window. Unfortunately other changes are not that great, for the user’s privacy at least: previously you had to manually type your email address and allow a screenshot to be sent, now both options are filled and checked by default, making it much easier to inadvertently send data to Google.
Other UI changes are still in the experimental phase and can be manually enabled through flags for the time being. There is no clear timeline when – or even if – they will land in the stable build:
- The experimental user manager opens in a standalone window instead of a tab;
- The App Launcher shows people from your Google contacts in the search results;
- With the Instant Extended API, the Google search results page no longer displays the URL in the Omnibox, showing the query instead. If you need the URL, this version adds a new context menu to ‘Show URL’;
- An new UI for saving passwords replaces the big infobar spanning the entire width of the browser window with a more subtle indicator placed in the Omnibox.
Speaking of passwords, saving password should now work on websites with dynamic password forms. For enhanced security Chrome will now generate 2048-bit keys when packing locally new extensions instead of 1024-bit. A new internal page, chrome://components, can be used to check for updates for Chrome’s components: the built-in Adobe Flash player, Swift Shader and more. Last, but not least, Chrome now supports alpha transparency in videos, unfortunately only for those encoded in the WebM format – as explained in more detail in this article.