It's no secret that notifications have been a usability nightmare for Chromebooks. The touch-centric cards are cumbersome and unintuitive to manage with a mouse — the lack of proper grouping and polish further hurts usability. Even worse, developers have done nothing to fix the awkward notification center on Chrome OS, leaving it in an unpolished state for years. But now it seems like Google is finally realizing that notifications on Chromebooks are a hot mess, and it's finally getting ready to fix its lackluster implementation.
We've spotted preparatory efforts over on the Chromium Gerrit that aim to overhaul notifications on Chrome OS. The newly merged code doesn't change much, only adding an internal switch that'll enable the new notifications in the future. However, peeking inside ash_features.cc reveals more substantial changes planned for the future.
A completely revamped notification experience begins development.
The developer commentary mentions a brand-new notification experience in the works, complete with grouping and a new UI. At the moment, flipping the switch in Chrome OS Canary 93.0.4534.0 does nothing — unsurprising since its development just getting started. Along with this commit, we've spotted more in-progress code that may give us a glimpse of what's coming. If you look inside message_view.cc, the code adds background blur when a notification's corners are round. This might mean messages could use blur as implied in unified_message_center_bubble.cc, but we're not sure. We don't see any code that explains how group notifications will work, but we imagine it'll function similar to Android.
A revamped notification experience is something Chromebook users like myself needed yesterday. The current implementation feels half-baked and frustrating, even on my touchscreen Chromebook. A refreshed UI is a wonderful step in the right direction, and I'm hoping that the new design will come with usability fixes that plagued the Chrome OS notification tray. Fingers crossed for some Material You vibes soon — I think it'll look slick.
The main highlight coming is notification grouping, and it's something several people have been waiting ages for. I find it incredibly frustrating when trying to sort several notifications from the same app — whether downloading twenty photos from Unsplash or receiving multiple messages from a friend on Google Messages. Notification grouping aims to fix this by bundling the separated notifications together. It makes my notification tray way easier to manage while keeping it tidy.
The new notification system is not functional in the Canary channel, which is a reminder that it's still very early in development. I can't wait to test this feature when it's functional — here's hoping it'll come soon rather than later.