Google Chrome finally includes a Reader Mode but only on Android

Browser reading modes take the main text of a webpage and present it in a uniform style while hiding everything else on the page. Users can also set their own preferred font, text sizes, and colors that will be applied to all texts on all websites when reading mode is used.

Google is primarily an advertising company, and it has been believed they won’t add a reading mode to their Chrome browser because it would hide the ads.

However, Chrome 65 for Android includes a reader mode for the first time. Chrome has had something like a reading mode in development for about three years without shipping it in their browser. There was no mention of a reading mode or distraction-free reading in the Chrome 65 release announcement. What Chrome shipped instead of a reading mode was a new accessibility feature called Simplified view.

When the feature is enabled, users will be prompted to switch to a Simplified view on supported webpages (any page that can be parsed by the DOM Distiller) using an Android “snackbar” notification at the bottom of the screen.

The notification is more intrusive than the out-of-the-way Reading Mode toolbar buttons we’re used to from other mobile and desktop web browsers.

“Show Simplified view” snackbar in Chrome on Android

“Show simplified view” notification snackbar

Simplified view, like any Reading Mode, is indeed an accessibility feature. The name Simplified view seems to have been chosen to sound unappealing to users who don’t need a simpler representation of pages. People who rely on screen readers and other accessive technologies will greatly benefit from this mode.

However, the average user is less likely to enable something that sounds like you’re getting a lesser overall experience compared to something that sounds like you’ll be getting a better reading experience.

There are some issues with Simplified view still such as the security indicators being confused about the security level of the page your reading.

Details from the DOM Distiller project — the open-source component that reduces pages down to their main content for Simplified view — clearly shows that the Chrome team originally wanted to ship a Reading Mode comparable to what was available in other browsers.

I haven’t found any details outlining the reasons why the feature was never shipped in its originally envisioned form. However, Google’s conflict of interests as a huge player in the online advertisement space comes to mind.

I find it interesting that Google has decided to go against their own business interests and include a feature that hides web ads. Then again, Chrome did ship with a built-in and on-by-default selective ad-blocker in Chrome 64. I didn’t expect that to happen either. Turns out, I probably wouldn’t be the best technology analyst.