It seems there is a lot of work going into Google Assistant on Chrome OS these days. Almost daily we are seeing news of new features and integrations at every turn.
Today, we have a few of these features linked together and they give us a better overall picture of how Google Assistant might look and feel on Chromebooks in the not-too-distant future.
Thanks to some repository digging by +Ondřej Pokorný, we can piece Google Assistant’s arrival together with a few things we already knew, but quite a few new bits as well.
Let’s get started.
Assistant Won’t Be Android-Dependent
Some grumbling happened last week when we reported that the latest APK teardown of the Google App on Android had language about an Assistant button on Chromebooks. Most Chromebook users don’t want new features dependent on Android, and I get it. I don’t really want to see that either, but certain functions may end up needing Android to work, and that just may be part of the future of the OS.
However, it is looking more and more like Assistant on Chrome OS won’t be Android-dependent. Check out this commit. In it, we see some very clear language pointing to the fact that Voice Interaction will function before anything Play Store related gets initiated. See for yourself:
once Voice Interaction is done or skipped. Simulate caroline environment and PAI works as expected.
In this quote, PAI is ‘Play Auto Install’ and will not be initiated until the Voice Interaction pieces are all in place and working. What this tells us is Google Assistant looks to be able to function apart from any Android interaction from the get-go.
Assistant Set Up Will Happen During Initial Chrome OS setup Screens
Additionally, we are seeing a commit where Assistant is being integrated into the startup user UI. So, right in the middle of signing in to your Chromebook for the first time, setting up Google Assistant will now be part of that process.
We even have a look of a non-styled version of this prompt at setup. Take a look at the actual HTML page here, or just have a glance at the screenshot of it in action below.
Concrete Evidence of a Physical Assistant Key
First, did you see the last line in that image above? It clearly references a key on the keyboard.
We’ve posted twice (here and here) about the very real possibility of a physical Assistant Key being added to the upcoming ‘Eve’ Chromebook. From this commit and the above-mentioned setup screen, it looks like we might finally have some solid evidence of a new, physical key on the device somewhere. From that commit:
Add keycode definition of Assistant key
The assistant key is not defined in USB HID usage tables (yet?), so we use the first available usage from the “Non-USB” range: 0xx000017. We will update with the correct user code if and when we get it allocated.
Now, I had to look around a bit, but this language is only used when talking about physical keys, not virtual (on-screen) ones.
Where we were a bit uncertain still in the reality of a physical key, this new evidence certainly looks to concrete the idea that ‘Eve’ will have a physical Assistant Key. Where it will be on the device is still unclear, but a side-mounted button would make the most sense with convertibles, detachable and tablets soon entering the market. Time will tell, but it at least seems certain that we will have a physical key at least on the keyboard at this point.
This alone is pretty big news. It is a fundamental shift in how Google is positioning Chromebooks and how they will market them down the line. But, that is a subject for a later post.
Assistant Will Be Context-Aware
Lastly, and perhaps most exciting, is the work being done on a context-aware Assistant built into Chrome OS. This commit clearly references (in the comments) a function of the Assistant that will be aware of whatever is on screen. Remember Google On-Tap? That service is still a thing and baked into Google Assistant on your phone. Only now, you simply click the “what’s on my screen?” button when you launch Assistant.
Going beyond this, the contextual awareness is a service Google offers up through its Awareness API. This allows app developers to use the contextual abilities of Google Assistant to leverage apps that are more aware and more reactive. How this tech will play out on the desktop is still an unknown, but seeing feature parity between Android and Chrome OS is certainly encouraging and exciting.
As stated at the top of this article, Google Assistant and Chrome OS are feverishly coming together. We’d hope that, at the latest, we’ll see something fully-baked arrive in the fall at the same time the Google Pixel 2 is launched. We can hardly wait!