We’ve been talking about a new feature coming to Chromebooks for about 9 months at this point that will extend the usability of your Chromebook for those time you aren’t…well…using it. First spotted back in July of 2019, Ambient Display is a feature that Android has had for quite some time that has recently been updated by Google for a handful of devices to behave more like a smart display under certain circumstances. For reference, similar types of interfaces are available on Google’s Smart Displays and via your Chromecast when you aren’t interacting with those devices at any given time.
Probably the best example of Ambient Display up and running is on the newer Lenovo Android tablets. There are ones that dock and others with built in stands, but the concept is the same: when stationary and charging, the tablet becomes a makeshift Smart Display that you can leverage in a similar manner to something like the Nest Hub. As I’ve stated before, though my initial reaction to this feature being added in Chrome OS was negative, I’ve changed my outlook on the usability of Ambient Display. Devices like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet would be pretty awesome with this feature, for instance, so I’m interested to see where this all ends up.
Earlier this month, Gabriel posted about the upcoming ability for this new Ambient Display to begin pulling from your personal Google Photos library for background images. This is a big step forward as the current iterations of Ambient Display on Chrome OS have simply pulled from an unnamed source for their photo content. Add to that the fact that Ambient Mode currently does little more than show a randomized slide show on your lock screen and you can see why we’ve not talked much about the feature in the past few months. Until there are some actionable bits to interact with, a lock screen slideshow just isn’t that useful or interesting.
Today, I’ve uncovered what looks to be the first hints of more interactive information to be added to Ambient Mode on Chrome OS. This commit outlines the addition of weather in addition to more glanceable information on the lock screen. Check it out:
[ambient] Prototype a glanceable information view (part 1).
This CL implements the retrieving of the weather information, which we need to show as part of the glanceable information on ambient screen, from the backdrop server. All UI-related works will be separated into a follow-up CL (part 2).
First up, YES! Weather is probably one of the most useful things that could be added to the Ambient Display in my opinion. After that would be media controls, calendar info, photos, time, date, and select notifications. With the way this commit is worded, there’s no reason to think all this won’t be in play down the road. After all, weather is called out as the first addition, but it is “part of the glanceable information” that is being added, so there’s clear indication that more is on the way.
With these new features being worked on, we’re now in the process of keeping a keen eye on Ambient Display moving forward. As this continues to devleop, I would expect to begin seeing an interface very similar to the Lenovo Tab M10 begin to emerge for Chromebook lock screens. Taking that functionality and dropping in into something like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could make for some seriously interesting use cases once all this is in place. As we expect many MediaTek-powered Chrome OS tablets in the latter parts of 2020, I think we could expect at least of few of them to also get some hardware docks to fully take advantage of this new development.