I think they are doing this so that in the near future, they can have an excuse to add clutter to the browser and people will think - that's not clutter, they actually minimized the browser.
Some examples I can think of, Google SideWiki integration, Google Desktop integration, Google Social integration, Google Go integration, Gmail on the sidebar integration.
I feel the suggested interface changes are kind of dumb though. You want no url bar?
Turn it into a super button like the Search Center extension: https://chrome.googl...omnjiknbpejdceedhdmf
More over combine this with Search this Site: https://chrome.googl...jaegiboaoncicpekfbdo
Finally add saved searches.
...or if you're pandering to the casual crowd, take a page from how netbook interfaces look like. Add the address bar to the bookmarks bar and there. All you need to do is hide the bookmarks bar by default (chances are your users already know the hotkey anyway/or add a drop down arrow) and you now have a vertical netbook interface full of buttons.
Why mess with the tabs? You're just killing some of the functionalities of tab extensions that way. Like if you show a search underneath a tab, you can no longer scroll through tabs using the mouse scroll wheel or double click to close tabs like the options provided in Chrome Toolbox
Same thing with panels. It only hurt Opera's image as a simple fast lightweight browser. Instead add a bunch of start bars but for buttons or icons instead of the address bar. There! Instant space for tons more buttons.
Want a mini-download bar? Look at how SingleFile shows the progress meter and combine it with how you show a user added a bookmark in the bookmarks bar by blinking: https://chrome.googl...dhhofbcjdecpffjipkle
ehh...sorry this turned out into a rant instead but basically, yeah I agree with everything you said except for it fixing something that's not broken. Google would just love to add a sidebar to Chrome - it gives them an excuse to hoist an ad like in Evernote does. Same thing with search boxes under tabs. It would make it a lot harder to use alternative search engines if users are trained to think of a search box as a search box rather than a place where they can type in website names. Even advanced users would get lazier the more they use chrome. No one likes to type extra words in tiny boxes.