Own a phone running Android Lollipop or newer and notice something different about the appearance of your Chrome tabs? It’s not just you — according to Android Central and The Verge, Google’s recently changed the way the mobile version of Chrome integrates with Android’s multitasking menu. By default, multiple browser tabs are now concatenated in a single Chrome card rather than broken out into individual cards.
Multitasking on Android Lollipop and newer, for the uninitiated, lets you quickly switch between apps using a “card” interface called Overview: when you tap the Recent Apps button, apps you’ve used, suspended, or closed appear as a flippable stack of rectangular previews. Until recently, Chrome on Lollipop presented new website tabs as individual, distinct cards coexisting with apps.
The impetus behind separate tabs, in theory, was efficiency — Web pages in the Overview stack would be easier to spot and quickly tap than tabs within Chrome’s interface, the thinking went. (Google, in fact, touted API that enabled the functionality as a major feature of Android Lollipop at the company’s I/O developer in 2014). But in practice, merged tabs unhelpfully blurred the demarcation between apps and Web pages, to which most users had become accustom. It could be difficult to distinguish between apps, for example, and old tabs had a bad habit of piling up annoyingly among recent apps.
If the change in Chrome is any indication, the Android team seems to have concluded that the cons of merged tabs outweighed the pros. The most recent stable version of Chrome, version 49, retains a setting to merge tabs and apps, but has it toggled off by default. (To find it yourself, tap the menu button within Chrome, select Settings, and find the Merge tabs and apps option.) Switching it on exhibits the old, merged tab behavior.
Most users likely won’t see the change — the old setting sticks unless you reset the Chrome app or install Chrome on a new phone. But it’s clear that going forward, Google’s doing away with its experiment in combined tabs, for better or worse.