Google is pushing a few interesting changes in the latest Chrome Beta for Android, including one that will make a lot of users happy: background playback of media files.
Chrome 54 Beta, now available in the Play Store, allows you to start playing a video on any website, switch to a different app or to the home screen, and have the video continue playing in the background.
The most obvious use for this is listening to music on YouTube in the background, without having to pause the video every time you need to check your Facebook updates. This functionality is not available in the YouTube Android app, but the mobile web version is good enough to warrant the occasional switch.
The process is not seamless unfortunately. When you switch away from Chrome, playback stops and you need to tap on the “play” button in the persistent notification to resume it. And you have to do this every time you switch back and from Chrome.
The good news is you can fire up a YouTube playlist, put Chrome in the background, and the videos in the list will play automatically. That makes it easy to create a nice list of your favorite tracks and listen to it in the background on your commute, for instance.
There’s a caveat. As Android Police’s Corbin Davenport notes, websites can use an API in Chrome 54 to disable this functionality. Let’s just hope they won’t.
Another big user-facing change is the recommended content that is now accessible with a swipe from the bottom of the Chrome homescreen. You get a list of recent bookmarks as well as a section dubbed “Articles for you,” which includes stories that Google thinks might interest you. For me, the selection was heavily skewed towards technology, but the interesting thing is that the recommendations are different from the ones in Google Now. We have to wonder why Google is duplicating functionality here, though the company is known for this kind of inconsistencies.
Chrome 54 Beta also includes a few new features for web developers, including the ability to make the various Chrome tabs talk to each other. Chrome tabs are normally sandboxed, for security and efficiency reasons, but the addition of this feature would presumably give developers more control over the user experience. Another feature is “Custom elements,” which let developers create their own custom HTML tags.
Bar any unforeseen issues, the features available now in Chrome 54 Beta should roll out to the stable channel of Chrome in around six weeks.
To try Chrome Beta (a separate app from Chrome stable), get in from the Play Store below.
What do you think of these features?