Google Chrome Gains Quick Music & Video Control

Critiques Jan 15, 2020
Preview of Chrome’s new ‘Now Playing’ control feature

What is this new icon in Chrome next to my profile? Is it useful? Is it a plugin? Is it a virus? Can I remove it? Your questions, answered and the UX critiqued.

What is it?

What I’ve noticed this afternoon is that Google Chrome has gained a new feature on the control bar. It’s located next to your display picture for the currently signed in user (and associated Google account). Upon clicking it, you get a dropdown with whatever you have currently playing in any of your tabs. It could be a radio website, such as I have above, or a youtube video.

Apparently this was a feature that came out in the early release canary builds in July 2019.

Google is testing a play button for Chrome’s toolbar
It appears that Google will soon add a play button to its Chrome browser, as spotted by Znet and Techdows. The button will live on Chrome’s toolbar, and will allow users to play or pause a video or music that’s playing in a tab.

Feature Walkthrough

First run

When you experience the feature for the first time, you get a notification dropdown pointing it out. I didn’t get to take a screenshot so here’s an alternative notification someone else took:

Notification example via express.co.uk

This is a step in the right direction to match Google’s Material design language, but until we’re used to the new delivery mechanism it can be confusing. I thought it was related to the website I was on (harvest.com), not the browser. Perhaps this is caused by the theme I’m using, but it’s one that will sort itself out over time I think.

In use

This only appears when something is playing in the background in one of your tabs. Whilst something is playing, clicking on this new icon will produce a dropdown that gives you a preview of what’s playing, the URL of the website and the option to play or pause.

When there’s no tabs with media playing, you get the default look of Chrome.

No media? No icon.

Multiple tabs

I was curious how it’d handle multiple medias, and I’m pleased to report that it handles it beautifully. With two or three sources it’s still manageable. Youtube, a Google product, looks beautiful here of course. If you have ten or twenty tabs open with media? Well, let’s just say you shouldn’t be consuming that many multiple streams of media in the first place 😉.

Handles two media sources beautifully.
Three is not a problem at all.

When the list gets too large, you get a scrolling list of sources.

Four concurrent media sources in my Chrome tabs.

Use cases

In brief this feature becomes handy if you receive a phone call and need to pause something, if you aren’t sure where the music is coming from and have too many tabs open, or want to get a quick overview of what media you were consuming.

Conclusion

So, what do I think of this new feature? I think it’s a welcome addition. Many people like myself moved to Chrome to minimise clutter and the infamous browser bar pile up you used to get. It provides you additional functionality to manage difficult cases such as receiving a phone call and needing to pause quickly, or finding where that music is coming from in the first place without cluttering your precious screen real estate.

Chuck Rice

Digital Product Designer aiming to educate, facilitate and liberate teams from "build it and they will come" syndrome. Problem Solver. Ex-Coder. Traveller. Learner. Fitness Buff. Corgis 🐶.