Google Chrome for Mac arrived yesterday in beta form. The browser is lacking important features, including bookmarks and cookie management, and the useful app mode available in the Windows version. Also, benchmarks show it’s marginally slower than Safari. But in use I’ve found it good enough to set as my default, and Chrome’s superior to Apple’s browser in important ways: it launches more quickly, and is far less taxing on my Mac regarding RAM and processor usage, even with many tabs open.
However, one thing I’m finding irritating is Chrome’s tabs. Google’s efforts elsewhere in making Chrome a Mac-like experience should be applauded—the browser supports Keychain and the Mac OS X dictionary, and there are subtle animations peppered about—but the main toolbar and tabs area is problematic. I spent a short while making a mock-up (see the full-size version on my Flickr page), which offers ideas for a more Mac-like Chrome interface.
Although Chrome is designed to be efficient regarding space on your screen, this comes at the expense of usability. Mac users are used to grabbing a title bar to move apps around, but Chrome’s tabs are situated high up, cutting the toolbar in half. It’s too easy to start a drag on a tab by mistake (Chrome, like Safari, frees the tab from its parent window rather than moving the entire window), and so you need to be more precise and slow down your actions. By reinstating the standard Mac app toolbar, this problem goes away, and you also have somewhere for the name of the site in the current tab, rather than you only seeing the first 20 or so characters. Again, this is a usability benefit. The only ‘disadvantage’ is losing about 11 pixels in height for the main viewing area, which is no hardship.
The other change made here is moving the tab close button to the left. This is the standard Mac way, and something Firefox and Opera also ignore. If Chrome wants to be truly Mac-like, though, it should follow Apple’s lead here. The only disadvantage is you lose the favicons from the tabs, although the current site’s favicon could be placed within the address bar. Chrome’s angled tabs make the close button’s position a little problematic, so my mock-up also straightens tab edges, which also happens to be a more Mac-like design.
Another problem I have with Chrome is that if many tabs are open, the browser is less usable, because tab widths become tiny. This makes tabs harder to click and activate, but it also means you cannot easily figure out what web page is within any given tab, because the title is truncated after only a few characters. Opera behaves in a similar manner, but I’d like—at least as an option—Chrome to behave more like Safari and Firefox, reducing tab widths to a set minimum and then making further tabs accessible via a widget.
These design changes might seem fussy, but the best Mac apps are consistent and have great attention to detail. In its beta form, Google’s first crack at a Mac browser is already most of the way there, but those aspects of the design noted in this post betray Chrome’s cross-platform and non-Mac routes—and not in a good way..