21 November 2013

What’s new in Chrome 32

Chrome-32-audio-tab-indicatorChrome’s 32nd version finally adds a small, but very useful feature that has been in the works for some time: an indicator for tabs playing audio! The announcement on the official blog mentions another couple indicators as well, for tabs accessing the webcam or casting content to a TV, but those are rather unlikely activities in a browser compared to listening to music or video. In my experience though the indicator is not full-proof: it works flawlessly with native video players (and most-likely audio), to the extent of live syncing with the audio playback, so when a video segment has no audio, the indicator fades out and returns as soon as the audio track is back! Also very helpful: the audio indicator replaces the favicon for pinned tabs. On the other hand, the indicator doesn’t work at all when the player uses Flash – I suppose this was the reason why this feature was delayed for so long, until someone finally gave up trying to support Flash and shipped a version for native playback only. At least for Flash videos on you can still fall-back to its own in-tab arrow indicator.

Update: As mentioned in the comments, the audio tab indicator works with Flash videos as well, as long as you’re using the built-in Flash plugin, not the older, soon to be deprecated NPAPI version. To enable Pepper Flash, visit the internal page chrome://plugins, look for ‘Adobe Flash Player’ (it should be the first entry on the page), click on ‘Details’ on the left to show all options and then disable the NPAPI Flash plugin and enable PPAPI (out-of-process). With all the efforts Google is putting into moving away from the old NPAPI plugin architecture, I find it a little ironic that the ‘Google Update’ plugin is still using it…

While not mentioned anywhere on the official blogs, this version also enables the new design for the New-Tab page by default, featuring the superfluous Google search box and missing a lot of useful features like direct access to apps and recently closed pages. For now, the flag controlling the Instant Extended API is still available, so users an theoretically disable it and revert to the previous New-Tab page layout.

Version 32 also marks the switch from native rendering to the new UI stack Aura. This will cause an important user-facing change, namely a new visual style for scrollbars on Windows: instead of the native, familiar look they will have a flatter style, without arrows at either end. Personally I don’t mind the visual change, but after updating to the stable channel the new scrollbars behave very strangely: often pages don’t respond to scrolling from the mouse wheel, or even zoom in or out as if I was holding down the Ctrl key! Hopefully these problems will be sorted out shortly, scrolling is almost unusable as it stands now.

This version will also bring a new user-interface in Windows 8, Metro-mode – nothing exciting from the images presented, didn’t spend any time trying to come up with new ideas to match Metro style, relying on the same boring windows as the classic desktop mode. Another minor Windows-related update is that the browser now supports opening and closing drop-down lists using the F4 key – I personally didn’t even knew this keyboard shortcut existed!

More useful should be the security enhancements when downloading files, a feature that was available in the dev. channel two versions ago. Speaking of this, there are a number of security-related changes in this version, such as:

  • Installing extensions for Windows users will be restricted to the Chrome Web Store to prevent malware and other issues. This will not affect developers, who will still be able to test their extensions locally before publishing;
  • New versions of warning pages when users visit sites with bad security certificates or labeled as malware/phishing, aimed at making the security risks clearer;
  • There are some hints at better protection for locally saved passwords, specifically a ‘master password’ required to reveal passwords in settings, for now only available behind a flag on Mac OS X;
  • Starting with this version, PDF files can be opened only in the secure built-in PDF Viewer, opening in Adobe Reader will be disabled by default. This is a step in the planned phase-out of the NPAPI plugin architecture in Chrome;
  • Continuing the policy introduced in the previous version for extensions, Chrome will start warning users about sites using weaker security keys, with a size less than 2048 bits. The same security policy applies to ’s sites, who from now on will use both the more secure 2048-bit key size, and ‘forward secrecy’.

Some of the other experiments and interface changes introduced are:

  • Work is under way to improve the full-screen Flash player and make it more consistent with the HTML full-screen player. Personally I didn't notice problems switching to other windows while playing Flash in full-screen mode, as described in the issue, but maybe others reported some;
  • The Omnibox no longer remembers typed URLs if these were mistyped and the resulting address didn’t exist;
  • The UI for Global Commands Keyboard Shortcuts has been improved to make clear which shortcuts work when the browser has focus;
  • Chrome 32 new translation bubbleA new user interface for the translate feature is being tested under another flag, replacing the big bar across the top of the browser window with a subtle bubble popping up in the Omnibox, next to the Star button.
  • There are some changes to profile management: now the profile switcher is a menu button with the user’s name instead of the profile picture – ironically returning to a design tried way back in version 13. A new link was added under Settings to manage supervised users.

Chrome 32 also brings a substantial list of new features and improvements for developers:

  • The Dev Tools started supporting CSS Pretty-printing;
  • A new internal page called chrome://thumbnails displays the thumbnails for the most visited sites on the New Tab Page, intended mainly for debugging purposes. Another internal page, chrome://app-list, lists the 4 most recent used Chrome Apps, though its purpose remains somewhat unclear;
  • HTTP Client Hints is available for testing under a flag. It’s one of the possible solutions to the issue of responsive images, and more: basically it provides a standard mechanism for the browser – the Client – to send information to the server about the capabilities of the device, so that the server will then offer the best suited image format and resolution;
  • And maybe the most important of all, the ability to debug over USB, enabling developers to control and debug Android apps with Chrome’s Dev Tools!


  1. It works perfectly with the built-in Pepper Flash. Maybe you're still using the deprecated NPAPI Flash plugin?

    1. You're right, I was using the NPAPI version and the audio indicator works correctly with the built-in Flash. Thanks, I'll update the article with your correction.