As it stands right now, Chromebooks don’t do anything but go to sleep if you leave them alone for a bit. Sure, you can set a few parameters to keep the display on indefinitely and you can control what happens when you shut the lid, but there’s really nothing you can do on your Chromebook to take advantage of the idle state whatsoever.
For many of us who grew up with older Windows devices, we’re accustomed to seeing screensavers on screens when a device isn’t being utilized. Chromecast and Android both utilize a screen saver feature called Ambient Mode or Ambient Display. On your phone, it gives you glance-able info like time, notifications, battery percentage and weather. I love the Ambient Display on my Pixel 3 XL because these simple pieces of info paired with the OLED screen keeps battery use down and gives me always-on info without needing to really interact with the device at all.
For Chromecasts, Ambient Mode is more of a screen saver as most televisions don’t switch off and on with speed. Instead, rotating photos that can be determined and customized by the user are shown at random along with the time and weather on the screen. Displays on our Chromebooks can flick off and on in a split second, but not all displays can do this, so Chromecasts need to be left on and displaying something other than a static image for larger screens.
With Chromebooks being able to kick the screen off and on quickly, there hasn’t really been a need for a good old screen saver in the Chrome OS world. Why bother with running another thing all the time if you can simply shut off the display, save battery, and keep from burning in your screen? In that regard, I’m unsure what exactly is being done here with what looks to be Ambient Mode on the way for Chromebooks. I uncovered this commit a few nights ago and it looks like Chrome Story beat me to the punch in getting it out to the world. I’ve just not been real sure what to think about it, honestly.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a decent idea of what it will be like and I wouldn’t hate it, but I’m not really seeing the purpose. If Ambient Mode is basically a screen saver (like what we see on Chromecast) that shows up when a Chrome OS device is in idle state, it will look nice but be generally unused. Chromebooks are usually closed up when not in use and won’t be able to make use of the Ambient Mode pics when the lid is shut. I suppose Chromeboxes and Chromebases will benefit from this, but those are definitely not the majority in the world of Chrome OS devices.
Where I’d love to see this all end up is giving us glance-able info like I get on my Pixel phone along with the nice images I see on my Chromecast. While I personally wouldn’t get to utilize or see it too often, it would be a nice touch in addition to the lockscreen widgets we already know are being worked on. Who knows: maybe once it shows up I won’t know how I ever lived without it.