The latest Chrome beta, version 111, contains a trial version of a feature that could make the browser’s picture-in-picture feature significantly more useful. Rather than just for video playback, Google is exploring whether it can actually display all web content in a floating window that stays on top of all your other windows.
There are quite a few ways this feature, called Document Picture-in-Picture, can be useful. Some examples from Google are usually just spins on how picture-in-picture already works, like video players but with custom UI (like buttons to like or dislike a video, a timeline, or captions), or a video conferencing mini-player that lets you see a grid of people and access controls to mute yourself or raise a hand.
But it’s easy to envision entire applets that also benefit from the API; there’s a pomodoro website that already uses it with supported browsers, and I’d absolutely use a website that gave me a picture-in-picture notebook or to-do list. Google also suggests that the feature can be used to display a playlist for your music, for example.
Of course, if many sites start using picture-in-picture of the full document, it would be nice if the feature came to browsers with non-Chromium engines. However, it is currently unclear whether that will happen. One of the developers of the feature asked teams associated with it Firefox And Safari for their position on it, and did not receive a definitive answer back. However, people on the Mozilla team were concerned about the feature being used as a location for annoying popups, and Apple people weren’t sure if it would even be possible on iOS.
According to the Chrome Platform Status tracker, the feature will be trialled until Chrome 115, which is likely to be released sometime in June. After that, developers will likely consider any feedback they receive about the feature and decide how to proceed.
To enable support for the feature, you can enable the flag by pasting chrome://flags/#document-picture-in-picture-api in your URL bar and choose enabled from the drop-down menu. Right now there probably won’t be many sites that support this, but you might come across a few.