Google Chrome dark mode on macOS

Chrome 73 is set to hit the stable channel on March 12, 2019. Google’s new browser update features the beginnings of a built-in dark mode, tab grouping, media key support, and more picture-in-picture powers.

Before we get into the details here, it’s worth noting that none of this is guaranteed. While these features are expected (and even planned) to be part of Chrome 73, there’s always a chance something gets pulled before it hits the stable channel and may not make its way out of the beta (or even dev) channel until Chrome 74 or beyond.

Dark Mode (on Mac, For Now)

Google Chrome dark mode on Windows 10

Dark mode is the new hotness on pretty much everything now, and Google should be bringing it to Chrome 73. This feature is available on macOS Mojave but will be making its way to Windows as well—perhaps in Chrome 74.

The biggest issue here? It looks an awful lot like Incognito Mode, which is probably not a good thing.

To use dark mode on a Mac, you’ll have to launch Chrome with the --force-dark-mode option, like so:

/Applications/Google\\ Chrome --force-dark-mode

If you can’t wait to get a dark mode fix, however, you can always install one of Google’s new Chrome themes to add a little darkness to your browser in the meantime.

RELATED: Get Your Dark Mode Fix with Google's New Chrome Theme(s)

Tab Grouping

Tab grouping in Google Chrome

If you’re anything like me, you have 30+ tabs open at any given time. As the number of open tabs starts to rise, however, it becomes harder and harder to stay organized. The new Tab Grouping feature should help with that.

The idea is pretty simple: you can keep similar tabs grouped. So when you’re researching for a project, you can bundle groups of tabs together. Sounds good in theory—we’ll see how it works in practice.

Media Key Support

If you live in Chrome for most things, then you’re likely as hyped about this feature as I am: Chrome will support your keyboard’s media keys, meaning you can play, pause, fast-forward, and rewind right from the keyboard anywhere in Chrome. That’s amazing.

You currently kind of can get part of this functionality by using the Google Play Music Chrome extension, but it only works with, you know, Google Play Music. So it’s not useful at all if you don’t use Play Music. This upcoming feature will hopefully bring full keyboard media controls to all popular web services.

Enhanced PiP Features

Picture-in-picture on Google Chrome 73

PiP (picture-in-picture) support is already baked into Chrome as of version 70, but in 73 it will get a bit more powerful. First up is Auto PiP, a feature that will automatically enable PiP as users switch away from the open video window.

Chrome 73 will also add a “back to tab” button to make it easy to toss the floating video back into its original tab. Hard to believe that isn’t already a thing, but here we are.

Improved Sync Settings

Sync options on Google Chrome 73

In past versions of Chrome, the Sync menu was just one entry in the People section where you can toggle what is synced. In Chrome 73, however, this entry is renamed to “Sync and Google Services” and gets a lot more robust—you can manage your synced items here, as well as a bunch of other Google services.

Among those, you’ll find options to toggle autocomplete in the Omnibar (for searches and URLs), show suggestions when a page can’t be found, safe browsing, help improve safe browsing, help improve Chrome’s features and performance, make searches and browsing better, and a new “enhanced” spell check feature. It’s worth noting that the last four options send some data back to Google, so you’ll probably want to make sure those are disabled if you’re not into sharing those details.

Notification Badges for Web Apps

Google has been pushing web apps hard and heavy over the last couple of years as valid replacements for most native desktop apps. And as the web gets more and more powerful, this is pretty true—I am currently running ten different apps, and nine of them are web apps, for example.

The new Badging API will let web apps add visual notification indicators to their respective icons to show unread counts, events, or even just dots. This is something that many mobile users have come to rely on, so it makes sense that we’d see something like this land on the desktop too. Very cool.

Chrome for Android Updates

Omnibar on Chrome 73 for Android

Speaking of mobile, Chrome 73 for Android will bring a few mobile-specific changes, as well. First off, the download manager should be getting a bit of a makeover, which includes a new download indicator and revamped download page with larger previews. This isn’t available yet in Chrome 73 beta on Android, so it’s less clear whether or not it will hit the stable channel with 73, but it should be coming at some point if not.

Past the download manager, the Omnibar is getting a share icon and edit button, which should theoretically make it easier to share URLs. This has been a pain point in the past because long-pressing the URL wouldn’t immediately bring up the cut/copy/paste dialog, but instead just highlight the URL. A second long-press would usually highlight a single word, after which users would need to manually select the entire URL before seeing the cut/copy/paste options. In other words: it wasn’t intuitive at all, and this new sharing/edit dialog should help a lot.

More Chrome OS Goodies

Google Chrome OS desktop

Since it’s an entire operating system, Chrome OS gets its own specific features with each new release—things that either don’t make sense in the Chrome browser or don’t apply to it at all.

Chrome OS 73 is no different, with all sorts of killer new features showing up for Chrome OS users. Most of this surrounds Crostini—the ability to run Linux apps on Chrome OS—but there are a few other pretty cool things happening outside of that, too.

First off, you’ll be able to set the display density of Linux applications, and it should save your setting, so you get the same experience every time you launch that app. Just right-click the icon and choose the density. Boom, done.

You’ll also be able to mount Google Play, Drive, and other files directly in Linux using the native Files app. Just right-click the file and choose “Share with Linux.” It will then be accessible from within Linux apps in the OS. Similarly, Linux apps will also (finally) be able to access USB drives.

Speaking of files and the file structure, many of you will be happy to know that you will finally be able to create folders directly in My Files. Previously you could only add new folders within the Downloads directory, but in 73 that is no longer the case. This should make for much better file organization.

Lastly, Chrome OS 73 may get native PDF markup support. This is present in Chrome 73 on the beta channel, but it’s currently behind a flag (chrome://flags#pdf-annotations), but there’s a possibility it will still make it into the stable release. This will allow users to write in, draw on, and otherwise do things to PDFs without the need for any additional apps or extensions.

What to Expect in Chrome 74 (and Beyond)

We expect to see most (if not all) of this stuff hit Chrome in 73, but we’ve also seen glimpses of stuff that should start to trickle out in 74 and beyond. Here’s a quick look at what to expect beyond 73:

  • Blocking Incognito Detection: Some sites detect when users are browsing in Incognito Mode to block specific features. Google is working on a way to stop this from happening. It’s hinted that this will show up under a flag in Chrome 74 and will hopefully see a full release in 76.
  • Audio support for Linux apps: Currently, Linux apps on Chrome OS (which are still in beta) don’t support audio out. That looks to be changing in Chrome OS 74…hopefully, at least.
  • Virtual Desktops in Chrome OS: This is something Chrome OS users have wanted for a long time, and it looks like it’s finally in the works. There isn’t a planned release version for this year, but it’s something to look forward to.

Naturally, these are just the biggest features in Chrome and Chrome OS 73—there are tons of smaller, under-the-hood type features to help make things, you know, work better. If you’d like to see a more exhaustive list of things that are currently planned, you can check the Chrome Status page. Just keep in mind that there’s a lot of dev-speak going on here, so it’s incredibly hard to parse.

And again, while we expect to see all (or at least most) of these features show up in 73, there’s always the possibility they won’t make the final cut or not show up till a later version.

Your Chrome installation will automatically update when the new browser is released. You can also click menu > Help > About Google Chrome to check for an update at any time.

Profile Photo for Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is ex-Editor-in-Chief of Review Geek and served as an Editorial Advisor for How-To Geek and LifeSavvy. He covered technology for a decade and wrote over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times.
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