It’s been over 4 months since we first caught a glimpse of the new Chrome OS virtual keyboard in the Developer Channel. This updated keyboard, at the time, came with two specific new features: a resizable floating keyboard and individual key borders. At the time, we thought those would both arrive in the now-ditched Chrome OS 82 that was skipped due to COVID-19. While the floating, resizable keyboard did make it to a subsequent update, the bordered key layout for the virtual keyboard was kept hidden behind a flag.
Right now in Chrome OS 84, you can trigger the flag for the still-experimental feature by heading to chrome://flags/#enable-cros-virtual-keyboard-bordered-key and setting the feature to enabled. Doing so – after a reset – will now give you the new, overhauled virtual keyboard in all its bordered glory. It is worth noting that when we compare the current version versus the original we spotted back in March, things look cleaner with the white background and all the keys and symbols lined up like they should be. It looks really great, honestly.
But, enabling a feature by turning on an experimental flag only feels like a half measure. After all, this flag has been in play for months at this point and at any time you could have turned it on. When I think of new features making their actual arrival for Chromebooks, I think in terms of things that are available for users the moment they crack open the lid of their device. A new feature shouldn’t require further setup and steps to use for general consumers, and as it turns out, this new keyboard layout will fall in that category in the next Chrome OS update.
Right now over in the Beta Channel of Chrome OS 85, the bordered keyboard is alive and well right out of the box without any need of a flag or any extra settings. It would seem this layout is what Google is preferring for Chrome OS and whether you prefer it or not, it is likely the one you should start getting used to. I, for one, really like the look of the bordered keys on the keyboard. While I turn them off on the small display of my phone, the larger screen o f a Chromebook makes those same key borders feel more at home. As many users will be coming from an iPad as their only tablet experience, I think putting a keyboard in front of them that feels familiar is the right move from Google. This updated keyboard does just that, and we’ll all be seeing it a lot more often in the next update to Chrome OS.