During Google’s I/O conference, the company hosted a session called ‘Input Matters for Chrome OS‘ where they gave some best practices for developers who want to help their users get the most out of their Android apps on Chromebooks. Over the years, I’ve complained a lot about the fact that most Google Play apps on Chrome OS don’t adjust the experience to accommodate the new form factor, and how they still pretty much just act like stretched-out phone apps.
While Google has long urged devs to get their apps in gear for desktop and laptop experiences, they’ve faced a strong push back. Chromebooks simply haven’t had a large enough market share for developers to consider placing time and effort toward making the adjustments, and most users wouldn’t think to reach out and ask them to do so. I’ve spoken directly with many of my own contacts, specifically in the game development industry, even those responsible for some extremely popular games, and this has been the consensus.
It’s not as though it’s difficult to make a few extra considerations for additional input devices like mice, keyboards, gamepads, styli, and even MIDI devices, but as I said, it just hasn’t been important. However, now that Google Play app and game usage has tripled in its year over year monthly usage on Chromebooks, and since Chromebooks have exploded in growth – 275%, to be precise – I can’t imagine developers making a good case for turning a blind eye moving forward!
During the session, a case was made for users who happen to be playing Android games on their Chromebook and already have their hands on their keyboard. Developers who consider these users should think about the fact that the user just expects the keyboard to work! The enter key should send inputs, the space bar should play and pause media, common shortcuts like Ctrl+Z in editors should undo the last action, and so on. Basically, they shouldn’t have to reach up and touch the screen. The code is a simple – 7-10 lines and the user will greatly appreciate it.
…However, I’d like to invite you to think more deeply about your app’s input and think about how you can fundamentally reshape the user’s experience.Emilie Roberts – ‘Input matters for Chrome OS’ Session
Another huge problem with inputs on Chrome OS is that many developers have failed to take into account that their users will often swap between them. For example, going from touchscreen to using the keyboard, and so on, and sometimes, in quick succession. If this is factored in, we could one day see more apps adjust intelligently to these use cases. Instead of playing a game with the keyboard and seeing the virtual D-pad stuck on the screen, they will hopefully fade to transparent or disappear when or shortly after we press a key on the keyboard!
Google has provided very thorough resources over on their website ChromeOS.dev, including help pointer capture best practices and a new alpha for the low latency stylus API (exciting, but more on that later!), but the core idea is that developers ought to support their users first and foremost. Let them use what inputs they want, whenever they want to, and make certain that the application adjusts appropriately. The sooner this becomes the standard, the sooner the Google Play Store will stop sucking on Chromebooks.
To be fair, there are already loads of apps and games that are fantastic on larger screen devices, but I’m going to come out and say that a much larger percentage is just missing the mark entirely. So far, most devs have made sure that they have a tablet-style experience so that their app or game simply fills the Chromebook display. They’ve done next to nothing to create a more intentional experience for laptop owners, and that’s no longer acceptable. I’d very much like to see that radically change, and Google would as well.