All of the changes we’re going to highlight in this video have been talked about in the past. They are features or UI enhancements that have been present in Beta, Developer or Canary channels of ChromeOS, generally hidden behind flags, and available on what has felt like a rotating basis. While none of these pieces are new to those who follow along with ChromeOS development, ChromeOS 104 could bring many of these changes together in a cohesive way that makes a really big impact on the overall user experience.
Though there are quite a few changes included in what we’re discussing today, they fall in 3 main areas of the OS at this point: the app launcher, the system tray, and the personalization settings. Again, we’ve seen all of these sections get small tweaks and changes over many months, but ChromeOS 104 in the Beta channel brings them all together in a nice harmony that makes the entire OS feel refreshed and new in some important ways. Let’s take a look.
The ChromeOS Productivity Launcher is probably the longest-running addition of the bunch as it has been in the works for well over a year at this point. We’ve discussed its arrival in numerous videos and posts, but the roll-out has been a bit slow. Some users have reported seeing it arrive in the last Stable Channel update to ChromeOS, but some like myself were not so lucky. On certain Chromebooks, it was there, on others it was not.
With ChromeOS 104 Beta, the Productivity Launcher is fully in place and ready to use without any setup or flags needed. It is smaller than the standard, older, tablet-oriented design and allows for sorting of apps by name or by color and, most importantly, it feels more at home with the current ChromeOS aesthetic. I’ve loved this feature since it began showing up, and I’m glad to see it fully arrive in ChromeOS 104 for what looks like everyone this time around.
System Tray, Calendar and Notifications
On the other side of the shelf is the System Tray, and it is getting some new features finalized in version 104 as well. The split clock/date setup is here along with an updated Calendar widget that comes with some nice visual updates and animations. On the other side of that System Tray is the updated notification section that finally looks like it belongs in ChromeOS. The older notification section always looked bolted-on to me, and this new notification center matches the look of established ChromeOS features like the Tote and Phone Hub areas, making your notification feed look like it actually belongs on your Chromebook.
Last but most certainly not least is the new personalization hub. Again, not new, but without flags or additional setup steps, it is nice to see this present in ChromeOS 104. When you right-click on the desktop and select “Set wallpaper & style,” you’ll find a new area that allows you to set your wallpaper, choose light/dark mode, and set up your screensaver.
The wallpaper picker adds Google Photos as a source, the light/dark mode works flawlessly and allows for a sunset timer to switch to dark mode, and the screensaver is integrated perfectly as well. From this settings window, you can really tweak the look of ChromeOS to your liking, and the implementation of Google Photos is perfect, allowing you to choose individual photos or albums for wallpapers or screensavers to your heart’s content.
With these separate-yet-connected features all rolling out in ChromeOS 104, it is really beginning to feel like ChromeOS is solidifying its design language. No longer a mash-up of Chrome and Android, ChromeOS is taking on a very Google-like aesthetic that makes it feel more and more at home in the Google hardware lineup. No, these new changes aren’t life-altering new features, but they make the OS so much more cohesive and attractive to use. As Chromebooks continue to grow and evolve, that’s an important part of the equation, and Google is moving things in the right direction with tweaks like these.