Your Chromebook gets a new background app with Material You-Vibes


Personalizing your Chromebook’s desktop is key to giving your device a modern, fresh look. With Google’s attractive selection of standard wallpapers (which you can download here), it’s easy to find a wallpaper that suits your style – as long as you don’t mind bothering with the mediocre wallpaper selection interface. For years, choosing a background has been a bit of a chore due to the cumbersome sorting and confusing poor performance. That could be over soon because Google is rebuilding its wallpaper picker from scratch.

Google has been working on a new wallpaper experience for over half a year to transform it from its aging Chrome app counterpart into a SWA (System Web App). The developers originally planned to incorporate the wallpaper picker into the system settings page (as reported by ChromeUnboxed), but that plan has since changed to create a new standalone app instead. We’ve been following Google’s efforts since they added the Chrome flag to enable the new background experience, and it was only recently that the app became functional, complete with a fresh look. Intrepid users of the Canary Channel can see the new UI by copying and pasting the following url into bold in the address bar of Chrome:

chrome: flags # wallpaper-webui

Activates the background image selection in the ChromeOS settings – Chrome operating system

Change the drop-down box from Standard to Enabled and restart your Chromebook. As soon as your session starts again, you’ll see the brand new Wallpaper app after right-clicking on the desktop and selecting “Set Background” from the context menu.

User interface of the wallpaper picker app in progress.

The appearance of the wallpaper selector looks noticeably different than before. There’s a pinch of Material You, with generous use of rounded corners, Google’s Product Sans font, and larger text that is on par with Android 12’s system settings. It sets the old vertical layout for a horizontal grid, similar to Google’s wallpaper app on Android. Chrome OS sorts the backgrounds by their respective collections, which you can access by clicking the rounded thumbnails. Just above the preview is a navigation bar that shows your applied background image, which changes depending on which collection you’ve accessed. Unlike the old app, the scrolling is buttery smooth – there are no weird flashes or delays to be seen.

Even in the initial phase, the new wallpaper experience is way ahead of the old wallpaper app. The tremors, random glitches, and messy organization made it downright frustrating to apply a wallpaper to my desktop – I gave up the selection entirely and used the Chrome OS file manager instead. In fact, I was really surprised at how awful it was when I bought my first Chromebook. Personalization is one of the first things most people start with when they first set up their device, and this mess really isn’t a good look for Chrome OS. The new picker solves many problems.

A model of what the wallpaper selection might look like when it’s done.

However, the awkward title bar, the mistake in resizing the wallpaper selection, and the lack of animation are clear signs that this is not a finished product. While I expect these issues to be addressed in future Canary updates, there are a few more things I would like to see. Right now, almost everything about the selection uses Google’s new design language, with the exception of color extraction. I think the picker would look ill when it extracted the color from your background and applied it to the app’s background. I would also (like many others) be happy if Google brought their live wallpapers to Chrome OS. Improving the quality of life really goes a long way in enhancing the Chrome OS experience, and I’m all for it.

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