Chrome has support for system-wide keyboard shortcuts. If you install an app that uses media keys — like Google Play Music for Chrome — it will hijack those media keys. Even if you have the Chrome app closed, Chrome will hold onto those keys and not let them go as long as it’s running. You’ll find yourself unable to hit Play/Pause, Forward, and Back to control music in iTunes, Spotify, and other desktop media applications. But this can be fixed!
This doesn’t just apply to media keys — Chrome can capture other system-wide keyboard shortcuts, too.
Control Chrome’s Hotkeys
Chrome doesn’t grab any system-wide hotkeys by default. Instead, apps and extensions ask Chrome for keyboard shortcuts, and Chrome reserves them. You can view and manage these reserved keys from your Extensions page — yes, even keyboard shortcuts associated with apps must be controlled from the extensions page.
To access it, click Chrome’s menu button and select Extensions. Scroll down to the bottom of the Extensions page and click the Keyboard shortcuts link.
Chrome will display the keyboard shortcuts associated with your installed extensions and apps. Note that there are two types of keyboard shortcuts — “In Chrome” shortcuts, which only function while a Chrome window is focused, and “Global” shortcuts, which function anywhere on your system as long as Chrome is running in the background.
You can control which keyboard shortcuts are global, and which work only in Chrome. If you want your media key shortcuts to only function in Chrome, click the menu next to each shortcut and select In Chrome. If you’d like to disable them entirely, click the X button. If you’d like to associate a different key or combination of keys with an action, click a box and press the keys you want to use.
Chrome automatically runs as a background application in your system tray if you have background apps installed, so it may be running even if you can’t see it. You can control this by looking for the Chrome icon in your system tray, right-clicking it, and unchecking Let Google Chrome run in the background. This isn’t necessarily the best idea — offline-enabled apps like Google Drive will normally sync in the background even when you’re not using Chrome, keeping your offline data up-to-date and syncing it as soon as possible when you connect to the Internet again.
Uninstall Hotkey-Hogging Apps
Just disabling the shortcuts or making them only work in Chrome will fix your problem. However, you may want to just uninstall the hotkey-hogging apps if you don’t actually use them.
You’ll find apps in the Chrome app launcher, or on the Apps page — click the Apps shortcut on Chrome’s new tab page to view them. Right-click the app you want to uninstall and select Remove from Chrome.
If the hotkeys have been captured by an extension, head to the Extensions page and click the trash can icon to the right of an extension to uninstall it.
Note that Chrome syncs your installed apps and extensions between all the Chrome systems you sign into with your Google account. This means that, if you install the Google Play Music app on a Chromebook, it will sync to your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop and take over your hotkeys there, too. Similarly, if you uninstall the app or extension on one system it will be removed from your systems when they sync.
Why Chrome is Stealing Your Media Keys
Chrome’s hotkey-hogging ways can be annoying if you just want to fiddle with the Google Play Music app and keep using iTunes, Spotify, foobar2000, or whatever your favorite desktop music player is. However, it’s actually a very important feature. One of the biggest problems with music-player web apps like Rdio, Spotify, and Google Play Music is that they can’t capture your hotkeys. Your system’s media keys won’t allow you to pause and move between tracks. This new feature in Chrome allows web apps to capture system-wide hotkeys so they can work just as well as native desktop apps. The feature is restricted to apps and extensions you install, so websites you visit can’t just capture your media keys.
This feature is just one more way Google is closing the gap between Chrome web apps and desktop apps.
Image Credit: Iwan Gabovitch on Flickr