The first Chromebooks launched a decade ago, and Google is celebrating that milestone with a big Chrome OS 89 update that introduces a ton of user-facing features. The company is also using this occasion to look at where Chromebooks will go in the future.
Where Chromebooks are going is best demonstrated by the two sets of features Google introduced with Chrome OS 89. “Better together” is the first tentpole and meant to capture how people today constantly multi-task across multiple devices. The term dates back to 2018 when Chrome OS added Instant Tethering, Smart Unlock (if your phone and laptop are side-by-side), and texting with Messages for web.
The latest iteration of Better Together starts with a Phone Hub panel that lets you quickly silence and locate your Android devices, as well as see recently opened Chrome tabs and reply to notifications. In the coming months, Nearby Share will be able to transfer files between Android and Chrome OS.
There will be “more feature releases this year that help your devices work better together” as the Chrome OS team works to “bring Google helpfulness to more devices in your life.”
Boosting productivity is the other focus of Chrome OS 89. This covers a whole range of features to help you “get things done fast.” For example, there’s now a “Tote” [bag] section in the shelf that stores recent screenshots and other pinned files, while the Clipboard saves your five most recent copies.
Chromebooks of the future
Looking ahead, Google identified four areas for Chromebooks in the future. “Always secure” is a longtime trend as seen by the update model and presence of the Titan C security chip, while “working seamlessly” is captured by the features rolling out now.
To offer more “intelligent experiences,” the company sees “utilizing [its] artificial intelligence technology to help people proactively.” We asked about the state of Assistant on Chromebooks today and Google discussed integrating it into user workflows rather than having it as a separate experience.
Today, it’s closely aligned with the app launcher and Google plans to expand the set of features that can be performed there. This is in sharp contrast to the very first iteration of Assistant on Chromebooks being its own chat box. In the more immediate term, Chrome OS 89 features Quick Answers that appear when right-clicking on text. This loads definitions, translations, and metric conversions feature Assistant branding.
This tentpole also sees Google talk about “integrating sensor technologies for more personalized experiences.” Most people do not think of laptops as being “smart,” compared to phones or wearables, but putting the same kind of sensors in bigger — and still portable — form factors is increasingly trivial. It should allow your devices to be more contextually aware and better adapt to what you’re doing. An example introduced last year is Ambient EQ to adjust your display’s white balance and color temperature to the current environment.
Another big push is “staying connected” as demonstrated by Instant Tethering and Phone Hub today, as well as the rise of more Chromebooks with LTE cellular connections. That class of always-connected devices are especially useful today for education customers and a handful have already been announced this year.
This is part of the broader push for more form factors with Google greatly preferring Chrome OS-powered convertibles, which guarantee a keyboard, rather than standalone tablets. On this front, Google told us that there’s interest from users and OEM partners alike on more Chromeboxes and all-in-ones (Chromebases) in light of work from home.
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