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Chrome for Android stops merging apps and tabs by default

In a quiet but not insignificant move, Google has changed the default way its Chrome browser handles tabs on Android phones. Since the arrival of Android 5.0 Lollipop, Chrome has let each tab display its own card inside the Overview menu. (That's the list of cards you see when pressing the Recent Apps key.) If you wanted to go back to the old-style tab switcher in Chrome itself, you'd have to find and disable the "Merge tabs and apps" option under Chrome's Settings menu.

As of the most recent stable build of Chrome — version 49 at the time of writing — the new default setting for "Merge tabs and apps" is off. This means if you're setting up Chrome on a phone for the first time, you'll start off with the old-style in-app tab switcher. If you want apps and tabs to live together in the Overview menu, you'll need to enable this manually. Essentially, it's the reverse of how things used to be.

Chrome tabs

Left: Merge tabs and apps, the old default / Right: Chrome's in-app tab switcher, the new default.

The move appears to walk back one of the major changes of the Lollipop era.

The move appears to walk back one of the major changes of the Lollipop era, where Chrome took advantage of new APIs in Android 5.0 that let apps create multiple cards in the Overview menu. The result was easier switching between Chrome tabs and other apps, thought at the cost of making it harder to keep track of all your individual tabs, and a little slower to switch between them. (What's more, that stack of cards could very quickly become a mess of old Chrome tabs.)

We've confirmed the change on several phones running Lollipop, Marshmallow and even the Nexus 6P on the Android N developer preview. It's worth noting that this only applies to new installations of Chrome, or new phones being set up for the first time. That means if you first set up Chrome on an older version, then updated to Chrome 49 through the Play Store, nothing will change. (To see the change for yourself, simply clear Chrome's app data, then restart it.)

It's still possible to have apps and tabs live together in the Overview menu — just hit the menu button in Chrome (the three-dots icon), then tap Settings > Merge tabs and apps.

The reason for the change isn't clear, though it's possible Google finally decided the old apps-plus-tabs setup was just too confusing. And for what it's worth, the change also brings Chrome on Android back in line with the iOS version of the browser.

Which tab-switching method do you prefer to use in Google Chrome? Shout out in the comments!

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

66 Comments
  • I always hated that and changed to the old style. Personally it was stupid Posted via the Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • That pretty well sums up my feelings about chrome as a browser on Android altogether. 5 years on, and it still can't reflow text when zooming. Thank god HTC still includes the stock Android browser.
  • On my Nexus 7 2013, chrome works flawlessly, similar experience to the desktop. But on my phone, it's horrible. Prefer opera instead. Maybe the new update will make for a more unified and improved experience. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's the kind of idea that sounds brilliant at first, then dumb as soon as you think about it Posted via the Android Central App
  • Agreed. I gave the merged with tabs a try and it always drove me crazy. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This was the first thing I would change when I had to reload my phone so I welcome this change back. I found it cumbersome and not as fast as using the in-app tabs. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ditto and I noticed it was off by default after flashing a new ROM yesterday. Hated it merged. Good move. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Especially because with in-app tabs you can swipe the top bar to change.
  • thanks, I didn't know that trick actually!
  • Same here Posted via the Android Central App
  • +1 From my LG G4
  • I tend to use webapps whenever possible in place of stand-alone apps, so I like the merged style. But then I'm frequently wrong about stuff.
  • You can always go and reenable it!
  • Yeah, I did. I just wanted to give a plug for the other side, since only anti-merge opinions had been posted.
  • That was one of the first things I changed as well. It was always a pain scrolling through all the cards trying to find your previous chrome tabs. It just seems much easier to view my tabs while I'm in chrome then scroll through a bunch of cards containing apps and chrome tabs.
  • I always found this odd, and judging from the number of people who asked me how to get to their tabs, I wasn't alone. Thank goodness they flipped it back by default Posted via the Android Central App
  • It was a startling new feature when it came out but I quickly learned to like and appreciate it. I'm surprised actually that others have such strong negative feelings towards the individual cards.
  • I noticed this change a little while ago after flashing an updated stock GAPPS (with Chrome, obv.), and didn't mind reverting to the old behavior. I can live with either, but unmerged is less cluttered when app-switching, so I lean towards it.
  • I've always got a couple of tabs open to remind me to do stuff, or even just sites I visit regularly. Because of that it muddies up my recent apps. Plus it's slower when switching tabs. I never saw the point of it to be completely honest :P Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • Wow didn't even know you could revert back. Was really annoying Posted via the Android Central App
  • I am so glad, one less step when I get a new phone now....LOL
  • Good move by Google..... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Good choice. That was the very first setting I changed every time I set up a phone. I hated having the tabs integrated with recent apps.
  • I am glad they did away with this by default. My guess is that now there are colored address bars now without the merged tabs there really was no use for this. I didn't like this setup either. Way confusing when I opened a new tab and wanted to go back and forward between tabs. At least they left it there for people who want to use it.
  • Weird. I like it, if only because it's much easier to reach the task switcher button than the tab button at the top of the screen to switch tabs on large phones. Using the Samsung browser on the S7 Edge though because of ad blocking and fingerprint web logins (why does Google not have this?). How does Samsung, a hardware first company, build a better browser than Google, an internet company with one of the best desktop browsers? The Chrome for Android team needs a good kick in the pants. Chrome for Android needs extensions and better performance. Google wants dat ad money too much though, at the expense of user satisfaction.
  • And before you bash me for being anti-ad, I actually don't mind ads on my laptop and desktop because those machines are such beasts that ads hardly slow them down at all. However, ads on phones make web page loading really slow and scrolling really stuttery and janky, so I have no tolerance for them there.
  • This was one of the worst ideas in a long time. Glad they came to their senses. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I normally have very few tabs open...usually three or less, so I'm in the minority for liking the tabs in the overview menu. It's easier, and quicker. I noticed this change a few weeks back after a factory reset and switched it back.
  • Ew Chrome, even the stock browser is better.
  • This was a welcome change, I like to leave tabs open in Chrome for later. I hate having them show up with the apps. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I just hated how long it made the recent app list which is already too long since it contains not only apps that are running but all apps that have ever run. This at least goes half way toward fixing the recent app list.
  • I like the merged tabs and apps, but a better change to clean up the recents list would be to remove tasks older than a set time. Tasks that haven't been run in a day definitely don't deserve to be in the list and that time limit could be lowered. A lot of people seem to dislike the merged tabs because of the recents list so I wonder how cleaning the recents list would affect their feelings toward the feature.
  • Yes! One less thing to disable when setting up a new phone.
  • The weird thing is that if you merge apps and tabs, you sometimes get some pretty severe scroll lag, or at least that was the case on my LG G4. When you revert to the tabbed option, the scroll lag is gone.
  • I was so happy when I turned on my GS7 and it was already in the Tab style! Posted via the Android Central App
  • I strongly did not like this feature. I would not have a problem with it if all the Chrome tabs were grouped together, like card stacks in webOS. That would actually make it a useful feature because it makes the overview button the default way to switch between any task, but by interspersing all my tabs throughout my apps chronologically it makes it easier to find Chrome tabs the old way versus the new way.
  • I was thinking the same thing, Android still hasn't fully captured WebOS's app switching. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Agreed. The did a great job of lumping the tabs together closely if you had several in a row, yet you give up that proximity if you switch to another app. I hate opening Chrome, thinking that I'm getting a new tab, but instead getting a random website that I was looking at 2 weeks ago.
  • Good never liked the merge. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Now if only you could also turn this off for Hangouts and Google search...
  • Google Search is much more egregious to me. Having multiple Chrome tabs didn't bother me, because it makes sense when I'm switching to go straight to the site, instead of going to Chrome then switching tabs. But I don't need old searches littering my recents. I've never gone back to a search in the recents list.
  • Is no one providing Google this feedback, or does Google just not care?
  • It's probably only power users that provide any feedback. And Google probably relies more on its own internal data to determine feature success.
  • I hated the merged tabs and apps... It was a memory hog, and opening any shortcut from desktop would simply bury the history with copies of the website :/
  • Does it still force the sites address bar colors on with no way to turn them off or did they walk that back too? EDIT: Damn it! Still forces that! Uninstalling update...grrrr...
  • Finally . . . every tab as an app was freaking annoying to me.
  • i like the merge, big fan of it, please don't take that away please...
  • This was actually kinda annoying since I got used to it Posted via the Android Central App
  • The merged tabs and apps feature was terrible and always the first thing I turned off when getting a new android phone.
  • Good move Goog. Now put a "close all" option for the Nexus in the recent tabs like you do in Chrome. The tip is not included! So tip your Uber driver.
  • I've found that the recent apps mode would come in handy from time to time only because sometimes I would open a page and it would just completely freeze chrome,but I would just open up the recents and close that page. I can't say that this wouldn't work in the tabbed mode but I don't remember it working as well anyway. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't mind the merged feature, works for me. What I don't care for is when I want a new tab to browse I tap the Chrome app and it brings one of those cards from the past (where I want it) to the front of the list (where I don't want it), and then I still have to tell Chrome to open a new tab. On desktop I can tell Chrome to always open a new tab. I don't see that option in Android Chrome.
  • Yea! Good riddance. Merging made the recent apps list unmanageable.
  • If only they would add the custom status bar colours to the in app switching mode Posted via the Android Central App
  • I loved the merged chrome tabs and apps. Posted via the Android Central App
  • version 49 at the time of writing — the new default setting for "Merge tabs and apps" is off. This means if you're setting u
  • I actually like the merged tabs. On bigger phones (6P) it's better to use the system multitask button sincere it's on there bottom of the phone, instead of reaching to the top of the phone to the icon on the address bar. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Don't really care. The new way never bothered me. The old way is OK too Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thank goodness. First thing I turned off. I guess I want the only one. I did think about going back to testing it out but I can amass 25 chrome tabs easy and u could see that being a mess.
  • I personally liked individual Chrome tabs. There's value in that. Only one place to go to kill things. Also, you can easily reference a tab while filling out a form in another. Google "WebOS stacks". Still the king when it comes to this.
  • I like the merged tabs and apps on phones that keep the recent app button, which is easy to reach on the bottom. (Someone else also commented on this.)
    But on some phones, like Samsung, there is no recent apps button handy. You have to long press the physical home button, and it takes an extra second or two to find the recent apps/tabs. So in that case I'd keep it unmerged. But then it's more inefficient to swipe down, tap, etc, which takes you out of what you were doing.
    I vote for the option, which is what they've always provided.
    However, merged method could use some improvements like others have commented on here.
    Good article, thanks.
    Deb
  • I totally did NOT like the merging. My phone had 23 tabs that i needed to be open. Then the phone started to lag. So as normally, i cleared those "recent apps". And whoops! Those tabs cleared as well. Also, I was learnt to use the old tab management, so everytime I wanted to find something, I needed to remember that. And I had so many apps open, so finding an open tab was a nightmare.
  • I prefer them merged, as it treats web pages (web apps) like regular apps. I think we should be moving in that direction. If all apps were actually web apps things would be simpler (think ChromeOS simple). Your icons would be bookmarks instead of apps. Your phone would smartly cache web apps you use a lot ..instead of having to decide to install or uninstall apps. You also wouldn't get things like Trip Advisor always nagging you to install their app when you go to their webpage. I should have to install a billion different apps to get a good experience with them, ...their mobile website should provide me with that experience (think Facebook). Also things would be platform-agnostic! No more worrying about 'when is xx app going to come to Android, or windows phone'. So... I think un-merging is an unfortunate step backwards. end rant
  • I had the tabs merged with apps for a long time because I like it when the website changes the color of the UI to match. That didn't used to happen when the pages weren't merged. The other day, however, I turned off merge so I could easily see how many tabs were open and noticed the UI color still matched the site I was on. I don't think I'll be merging tabs again any time soon, and I hope other people add the color matching code to their sites.
  • I don't get the option to turn it back on in settings. Open Chrome. Click the three dots. Click settings. But can't find the merge tabs option anywhere. Used to like this. Any ideas? I'm using Developer Preview 5 of Android N. Thanks in advance! Nexus 5X is the business!