The latest Chrome beta, version 111, includes a trial for a feature that could make the browser’s picture-in-picture feature significantly more useful. Instead of being only for playing videos, Google’s looking into letting it display basically any web content in a floating window that stays on top of all your other windows.
There are quite a few ways this feature, which is called Document Picture-in-Picture, could be useful. Some of Google’s examples are mostly just spins on how picture-in-picture already works, such as video players but with custom UI (such as buttons to like or dislike a video, a timeline, or captions), or a miniplayer for video conferences that let you see a grid of people and access controls to mute yourself or raise a hand.
But it’s easy to imagine entire applets that take advantage of the API too; there’s a pomodoro website that’s already using it with supported browsers, and I’d absolutely use a website that gave me a picture-in-picture notepad or task list. Google also suggests the feature could be used to show, say, a playlist for your music.
Of course, if many sites start using full-document picture-in-picture, it’d be nice for the feature to come to browsers with non-Chromium engines. However, it’s currently unclear whether that will happen. One of the feature’s developers asked teams associated with Firefox and Safari for their position on it, and didn’t get back a definitive answer. However, people on the Mozilla team did raise some concerns about the feature being used as a venue for annoying pop-ups, and Apple folks weren’t sure if it’d even be possible on iOS.
According to the Chrome Platform Status tracker, the feature will be trialed until Chrome 115, which will likely release sometime in June. After that, developers will probably consider any feedback they receive on the feature, and decide how to move forward.
If you want to turn on support for the feature, you can enable its flag by pasting chrome://flags/#document-picture-in-picture-api into your URL bar, and choosing enabled from the drop-down menu. At this point there probably won’t be a ton of sites that support it, but you may come across some.