Why Google’s Chrome Browser Tabs get it spot on

Google’s Chrome Web browser was released to much fanfare last week. One of the touted features was their redesign of the tabbed interface. They got it spot on, it’s exactly how it should be.

Here’s how Apple do it in Safari (click to enlarge):

Here’s how it’s done in Firefox (click to enlarge):

And here’s it done right in Google’s Chrome (click to enlarge):

Tab panes are used to group together related items and navigate between them. The address bar, the navigation controls and the page that it loads are obviously related. Firefox and Safari have created 2 visually distinct groups; the controls and the page content itself. Whilst It doesn’t take long to realise that changing the tab attached to the controls also changes the page (their close proximity helps) they should all be grouped together so that the behaviour is less surprising to the uninitiated.

By re-arranging the window so that the tab encloses the address bar, the navigation controls AND the page you are browsing, Chrome ties together the entire view, makes the relationship explicit and it just feels more natural.

This approach has other benefits too;

  • Switching tabs is a fairly frequent task – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve missed the tab bar and clicked a link in my bookmarks bar. Moving the tabs to the top and leaving the bookmarks bar where it is solves that one!
  • Whilst the tabs are physically further from the content, when the browser is maximised you can take advantage of Fitts’ Law so that selecting them is quicker – possibly even quicker than in their conventional position.
  • Safari supports dragging a tab into a new window; doing this from the top of the window feels more natural – like you are tearing a page from a notebook. Although, Apple’s slick use of animation to produce a mini version of the tab mitigates the worst effects of this.

Whilst writing this post, I have been pondering why the tab bar is where it is on other browsers. I think the most likely explanation is that whilst it isn’t attached to the content it is very close to it. Its proximity gives it the grouping effect and makes the tabs convenient to click. Also, it is probably the approach that required the least re-design! However, I think on balance it’s Google who are right in this case.

I’m really pleased that Google have released Chrome; though whilst I wont be using it (no Mac version!), I think a fresh face in the browser market with new ideas who is willing to rethink existing conventions is something we all should welcome.

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