Since the beginning of my journey with Chrome OS and Chromebooks, there have been a few constants that simply haven’t changed very much. At the top of that list is the Chrome OS keyboard and trackpad that have both largely remained unchanged through the years. Sure, we’ve had a few extra keys on certain devices made by Google and we’ve had a few unique keys added for enterprise devices in the past couple years, but up to this point, Google has been pretty fastidious about a standard keyboard and trackpad experience on Chromebooks. It’s a move that has proven to keep the feel of using a Chromebook very familiar across a growing family of devices made by an expanding number of manufacturers.
Only a few Chromebooks have retained things like physical mouse buttons and Google even went as far as mandating that Lenovo remove the pointer stick from the last-gen Lenovo ThinkPad Chromebook 13 when it’s Windows-bearing siblings all kept the divisive pointing method on board. Google also required Lenovo to remove the somewhat-odd left and right mouse buttons that are situated above the trackpad on that same Chromebook even though Lenovo includes them on every other IdeaPad that is on the market. Regardless of what you think about these unique ThinkPad input methods, the fact that Google used to outright disallow this type of customization on Chromebooks was a bit of a staple of the Chromebook experience.
Google is becoming more flexible with Chromebook hardware
As we’ve seen with last year’s Dell Chromebooks for enterprise, Google is starting to loosen the reigns a bit on what manufacturers can and cannot do with their Chromebook hardware. Dell launched the Latitude 5300 Chromebook enterprise with extra buttons all over the keyboard and a dedicated left and right mouse buttons as well. You can check out our review and see all of these customizations, but it it is one of the few Chrome OS devices out there to get a pretty customized input layout.
With the upcoming Lenovo ThinkPad that was just announced with AMD processors, it seems Google has decided to let manufacturers begin full-blown customization at least for their enterprise-level offerings. You can see in the photo above that this device will retain the now-standard red pointing stick in the center of the keyboard and the trackpad buttons directly below the space key on all models, including the one running Chrome OS.
While we’ve yet to see this sort of customization on input methods for consumer-focused Chromebooks, this feels like a big step for Google. I personally like the focused, clean approach to inputs that Google has managed to enforce on Chromebooks, but I also understand the need for some of these less-conventional input methods for enterprise fleets trying to make the transition over to Chromebooks. I’d wager that Google’s choice to dial back it’s hardware demands may never escape the enterprise sector, but it’s still an important move.
When trying to get larger companies to embrace both your hardware and software offerings across the board, making changes that ease those transitions is the smart move. Sure, general users can re-learn shortcuts and ways to navigate their device, but workers who are handed a laptop as part of their job don’t care about discovering a new way of doing things: they just want to get their job done. As more companies look to deploy Chromebooks across their workforces, the ability that manufacturers will now have to build more familiar experiences for those workers will make a big difference in simply keeping the peace during the transition. It’s an important change that I think Google needed to make for enterprise-focused Chromebooks to be successful in this growing space, and I’m glad to see Google opening up a bit to these sorts of variations.