Another month, another Chrome release: Following the usual beta testing period, Google has just started rolling out version 88 of its browser, and there are quite a few improvements and significant changes on board. The release enhances some password protection features and paves the way for more web apps in the Play Store, but it also says goodbye to FTP connections and puts the final nail in the Flash Player's coffin.
As we already covered, Chrome 88 comes with a slew of new password protection features. In addition to checking your saved passwords for breaches, the browser will now also warn you when you want to save a password that's considered too weak to be secure. Should you have to change your already saved passwords, a new button in the built-in password manager will now allow you to do that for the first few supported services. On Android, biometric authentication for password autofill is planned to come soon.
Manifest V3 support
Chrome 88 is the first version to fully support Google's controversial new Manifest V3. The key change in Manifest V3 is the deprecation of the webRequest API in favor of the declarativeNetRequest API. Instead of allowing extensions to examine and filter every network request coming to Chrome, which isn't the safest option regarding privacy and security, the declarativeNetRequest API only lets extensions provide Chrome with a filter list that the browser parses itself. Developers aren't happy with the change because extensions can only apply a maximum of 30,000 rules in Chrome 88 while some of the more common blocklists like EasyList have more than 60,000 rules. Google already vowed to raise that number to 300,000 in Chrome 89, but that might still not be enough to run more than a few blocklists at once.
Google will begin approving and shipping the first extensions using the new manifest following the release of Chrome 88. Right now, Google hasn't communicated the inevitable shutdown date of Manifest V2 and the webRequest API. Other Chromium-based browser makers like Vivaldi and Opera promised to continue supporting the older API.
Read more about Manifest V3 in our coverage here.
Play Store billing for web apps
Chrome 88 adds support for Play Store in-app purchases for web apps as part of the Payment Request API. On Android, this allows websites to tap into the Google Play Billing Library. This is important for developers who want to monetize their web apps in the Play Store, as its policies forbid in-app payments using other billing methods. Developers interested in implementing this can find more details here.
Flash and FTP deprecation
Similarly, all support for FTP has been removed from Chrome, following the feature's deprecation in Chrome 80. FTP is still a widely used protocol for accessing and transferring files via the internet, but web browsers have always been ill-equipped for file browsing. There are much better client programs for FTP connections, like the open-source FileZilla.
Screenshots in Incognito
Screenshots in Incognito work as expected in Chrome 88.
For a long time, Chrome didn't allow you to take screenshots when browsing in Incognito to prevent you from saving certain potentially infringing content, but there are circumstances when you do want to retain information from Incognito tabs. That's finally possible with Chrome 88 thanks to a new #incognito-screenshot flag that brings back screenshot support to the Incognito mode when enabled. It's not clear when the functionality will roll out to everyone by default.
If you're anything like me, you'll have dozens of tabs open during a regular surfing session, and that's where tab search might come in handy. The feature has been available in Chrome OS for a while already and is now finally making the jump to other desktop OSes with version 88. You have to enable it in chrome://flags under #enable-tab-search (copy and paste the link address in your address bar). After restarting your browser, you'll find a new icon on the rightmost side of the tab strip which you can click to see an overview of all of your open tabs, including a search bar. You can also pull it up via Ctrl+Shift+A.
Tab search is limited to the desktop versions of the browser for now, and we don't know if Google will ever expand it to mobile.
Google is working on adding tutorial videos to its browser. You can currently activate them via the #video-tutorials flag, but right now, they only consist of placeholder videos from the Google Go app. They're visible as cards on the new tab page, between your most visited websites and the Discover feed.
The titles already suggest what content we can expect in the future: There is "How to use Chrome," "How to download content for later," How to search with Chrome," "How to search with your voice," and "How to use incognito." The videos are limited to Android, and Google will presumably only activate the tutorials for everyone once the proper content is available.
Apart from these bigger tweaks to Chrome, there are a few smaller changes:
- Chrome has long supported dark themes including Microsoft's on Windows 10, but some quirks were never addressed on the desktop OS until now. Dark mode finally properly darkens the scrollbars in more places, like Settings, History, Bookmarks, and other internal sites.
- Chrome 88 drops support for macOS 10.10 Yosemite, and now requires macOS 10.11 El Capitan or later.
- Chrome previously added left and right buttons for navigating through tabs, and a new #scrollable-tabstrip-buttons flag is available that keeps the buttons visible at all times.
The #scrollable-tabstrip-buttons feature flag.
- Google's Legacy Browser Support extension, which allowed IT managers to set rules for opening other browsers automatically when certain pages are loaded, is no longer supported as of Chrome 88. Most of the extension's functionality is now built into Chrome directly.
- Links that open in a new tab (<a> tags with "target=_blank") automatically behave as if "rel=noopener" is set. This will help prevent so-called tab-napping attacks.
- WebXR experiences (AR and VR content) can now dynamically scale their content, which can improve framerates in some cases.
- Web apps can optionally enable a new feature called Origin Isolation, which increases a page's security in exchange for certain APIs being unavailable.
- A new #destroy-profile-on-browser-close flag is available that "[releases] memory and other resources when the last browser window is closed," instead of by default, which occurs when the Chrome browser is exited completely.
- A new #permission-predictions flag is available that switches to a less-intrusive interface for page permissions, when Chrome predicts that you're less likely to grant said permission (e.g., a website you've never visited before asking for notifications).
- The addEventListener class got a new AbortSignal option to make it easier to shut down EventListeners when not needed anymore.
- Support for Web Components v0 has been removed from Chrome.
- Google now allows developers to enable or disable pointer acceleration and other underlying platform modifications. This is particularly valuable for games.
- A new aspect-ratio CSS property class allows developers to set aspect ratios for any element, not just pictures.
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.