Chrome has finally reached the 80s. The browser sadly doesn't have a neon theme or play The Power of Love at startup, but maybe Google is saving that for v85. Regardless, this version has plenty of changes to go into, so let's dive in.
Spring cleaning is coming early for Google Chrome. Several feature experiments that have shown up over the past few months have been completely removed, possibly marking an end to much-anticipated functionality.
First is #overscroll-history-navigation, which we first covered in March 2019. It added the ability to navigate back and forward using horizontal swipes. Perhaps with the advent of full-screen gesture navigation in Android 10, Google deemed this feature unnecessary.
The #overscroll-history-navigation feature
Similarly, the horizontal tab switcher that first appeared over a year ago is gone. When the #enable-horizontal-tab-switcher flag was turned on, Chrome tabs were displayed horizontally instead of in a vertical stack.
Left: Regular tab switcher; Right: Horizontal tab switcher
The #enable-ntp-remote-suggestions flag has also been removed, so it's no longer possible to completely remove article suggestions on the New Tab Page. They can still be hidden by tapping 'Hide' in the 'Articles for you' section of the page, but a button for turning them back on remains.
Both flags for Reader Mode are also missing (#reader-mode-heuristics and #enable-reader-mode-in-cct), which seems to mark the end of the long-awaited feature. It was a bit surprising in the first place that Google would add a mode that removed advertisements from web pages, so its removal probably won't shock anyone.
It's always strange to see major features that have been worked on for months suddenly be scrapped, but that's software development for you.
Quieter notification prompts
Mozilla revealed last year that 99% of Firefox users don't allow sites to send notifications, and Chrome likely has a similar bounce rate. Both browsers are taking steps to make the notification permission less intrusive, and Chrome 80 has the first changes.
There's a new checkbox for quieter messages in Chrome's notifications settings. Google is still testing it, so if you don't see it, you'll have to enable #quiet-notification-prompts in chrome://flags. The option will then be visible under Chrome settings > Notifications > Advanced > Additional settings > Use quieter messaging.
The updated prompt is similar to the popup blocker message that Chrome added back in 2018. Instead of a large alert that covers the screen, the prompt appears at the bottom and doesn't interrupt anything. Google mentioned in a blog post that sites with low notification acceptance rates (e.g. sites where nearly everyone blocks notifications) will be the prime targets for testing:
Sites with very low acceptance rates will be automatically enrolled in quieter prompts. They will be unenrolled once acceptance rates improve, for example, if the developer of the site improves the notification permission request user experience. Per-site information about notification permission acceptance rates will be made available via the Chrome User Experience Report in Q1 2020 and automatic enrollment is based on Chrome usage statistics.
Google also said the prompt will roll out to people who generally deny all notifications. It's nice to see Chrome tackle one of the more annoying aspects of the modern web.
Content Indexing API
Chrome already allows sites to save copies of pages, images, scripts, and other files to your phone — this is what makes offline Progressive Web Apps work. However, there is no browser-level interface for checking what exactly is downloaded locally, so it's up to the web site to explain what is and isn't available offline.
Google is attempting to solve this problem with the Content Indexing API, available as an Origin Trial (opt-in beta) in Chrome 80. Web apps can now add or remove content in the 'Articles for you' section of the Downloads page. This is opt-in functionality, so it won't list all files stored by web apps on your device. You'll still have to open the storage settings for the Chrome app to get the full picture.
In a blog post, Google said, "Chrome is [also] running experiments to proactively recommend this content when it detects that a user is offline." As such, this functionality might become more apparent to users in future releases.
More HTTPS changes
Google's fight against unencrypted HTTP pages wages on. Most recently, Chrome has been slowly pulling back on support for "mixed content," where unsecured HTTP content is embedded on HTTPS pages. The browser already warns you when mixed content is detected, and now Chrome will try to fix the issue whenever possible.
A new feature in Chrome 80, called Autoupgrade Mixed Content, will attempt to replace the "http://" in any URLs it loads with "https://," similar to what extensions like HTTPS Everywhere have offered for years. For now, only video and audio links will be upgraded, but the Chrome team hopes to expand this to more types of content in the future.
Many years ago, the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) was a popular way to host files online. However, it was never designed to be a secure protocol, and suffers from countless vulnerabilities. Now that it has largely fallen out of use, Chrome will soon drop all support for FTP connections.
This has been a long time coming, as Chrome 59 started blocking pages from embedding content from FTP servers, and Chrome 72 started forcing all FTP links to be downloaded instead of viewed in-browser. According to the Chrome dev team, FTP usage is now so low that it's safe to remove all support:
The current FTP implementation in Google Chrome has no support for encrypted connections (FTPS), nor proxies. Usage of FTP in the browser is sufficiently low that it is no longer viable to invest in improving the existing FTP client. We would like to deprecate and remove this remaining functionality rather than maintain an insecure FTP implementation.
FTP support is now deprecated in Chrome 80, which means it still works, but it will start to become disabled by default for some users (via the #enable-ftp flag). Google plans to remove all FTP code and support in Chrome 82. There's no message when visiting an FTP server about it being insecure or unsupported, you just get a blank page.
Chrome with FTP support enabled (left) and disabled (right)
If you still need to access files on an FTP server, there are plenty of separate applications designed for that very purpose. Cyberduck is a great option on desktop platforms.
As always, Chrome 80 includes changes for both users and developers. Here are some smaller changes in this update:
- Support for Custom Elements V0, Shadow DOM v0, and WebVR v1.1 have been removed entirely.
- Cookies are now marked as 'SameSite=Lax' by default, to prevent cross-site cookie reading unless the site developers specifically opt-in.
- Synchronous network requests sent while closing tabs are now blocked.
- Popups created when a tab is being closed are now blocked.
- Support for HTML Imports have been completely removed, because ES Modules do the same thing and work with other browsers.
- Sites can now check what decoding abilities your device has, so streaming music and videos won't use a decryption format that is overly battery-intensive.
- A new 'Periodic Background Sync' feature allows sites to schedule push notifications for the future without setting up an external server.
- The new Serial API allows sites to communicate with hardware devices over a physical or virtual serial port, once given permission.
- SVGs can now be used as favicons.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.
Note: Most versions of the Chrome APK use app bundles, which APKMirror doesn't support yet. As a result, only a few variants are available for download.