About two months ago, we reported on the emergence of some sort of ambient mode coming to Chromebooks. Looking at the commit language, it was pretty clear that an interactive, slideshow-oriented interface was being developed for Chrome OS. At the time, it was pretty simple to see some of what was being added, but it was a bit confounding to attempt to figure out why it was being added. Well, as of yesterday’s announcement by Google, much of that is now being cleared up.
To get you up to speed, you can read Gabriel’s article about Lenovo’s new Smart Displays and Smart Tablets that were announced officially at IFA yesterday. While the smart display looks great and will be a fantastic addition to the growing smart screen market, the Ambient Mode announced for the tablets is what caught our attention the most. With this new mode, Android tablets and phones will have a sort of Smart Display-esque mode they can enter when idle. One of the tablets debuted by Lenovo has a small dock just for this purpose, but ostensibly anything (when charging, when wirelessly charging, when in a particular case or stand, etc.) could be set to trigger the Ambient Mode and basically turn any Android device into a Smart Display in seconds.
We’re getting our heads around all the possible use cases for this and will spend a bit of time on that in a piece over the next couple days. We talked pretty extensively about it in the Podcast, so when that goes live later today, be sure to check out some of our initial thoughts and reactions to this news. Regardless of intention, the feature is now announced and live on a few, select devices and coming to more down the road.
Putting the pieces together
In that article I mentioned up at the top, we’ve known some sort of ambient mode was coming to Chrome OS. The questions were just as many as the facts, however, so we’d just put it out of our minds for the time being. After all, why would you want your Chromebook to be a picture frame when locked? Most times you just close it up, right? What purpose would this serve?
As it turns out, a whole new purpose may be served with this Ambient Mode setup Google has introduced. For starters, this mode is much more than just a slideshow. Instead, the Ambient Mode will allow for all sorts of Smart Display functions from all sorts of devices including Chromebooks. When we look at upcoming features we’ve found like the new iPad-like ambient light sensor functionality, wireless charging abilities, and commits around Ambient Mode, it all starts making a lot of sense why these pieces are all being added to the Chrome OS ecosystem.
With better ambient light sensing, your Chrome OS device in Ambient Mode will be able to adjust the display to more precisely match the current lighting environment just like the Nest Home Hub does (and it is fantastic at that, by the way). With wireless charging coming to the entire line of new MediaTek-powered Chromebooks and more devices getting pogo pin support, docking functionality becomes simple. And lastly, all the commits we’re seeing around Ambient Mode for Chrome OS now have a purpose and reason for existing beyond just showing pics on a lock screen.
As I said above, there is no question that this feature will hit Chrome OS very soon, but I don’t suppose it will be on every single Chroembook. I could be wrong, but I don’t see a ton of people dropping their 15.6-inch Chromebook up on the counter as a Smart Display on a regular basis. On the other hand, a smaller tablet that I can use during the day and then drop in a dock while I’m at home? Well now, that sounds like something I may be very, very interested in.