Google-watchers may have already heard about “Project Athena,” a Chrome OS-related experiment of Google’s that has appeared in the Chromium source code a few times in the past.
The new UI, displays a cascading stack of cards, each of which appears to represent an individual browser tab. At the bottom of the screen, an app drawer full of dummy icons and a Search field will allow the user to jump quickly into other applications. The battery indicator and network status are in the upper-right corner of the screen.
The current Chrome user interface, codenamed ‘Aura’, hews much closer to Windows 7 than to Android, and it works better with a traditional keyboard and mouse combo than with fingers. The Athena UI looks like a more touch-friendly take on Chrome OS—touchscreens are gradually beginning to show up on Chromebooks like the Pixel and one of Acer’s C720 models, but the operating system isn’t particularly touch-friendly. It’s possible that Google is looking to give touchscreen Chromebooks a boost by developing an interface for them that’s easier to use.
There’s also that onscreen Chrome OS keyboard that Google has been testing for some time now. Rumor sites and Google enthusiasts seem to think this points to a Chrome OS tablet, though it could just as easily be an accessibility feature; all recent Windows versions have included an onscreen keyboard to aid those who can’t or don’t want to use the physical keyboard.
The new interface would dovetail nicely with one of the few Chrome OS announcements made at Google I/O, the ability for Chrome OS to run Android applications. It is not known yet what developers will need to do to enable this cross-platform compatibility or when we’ll actually see the feature, but given the touch-first nature of Android apps it would make sense for the Chrome OS user interface to become more finger-friendly as well.