I’ll come clean and admit that I don’t really use the Google Assistant all that often on my Chromebook. Yes, I know that baking the Assistant into every possible product has been Google’s bread and butter over the last few years, but I just don’t find a lot of real usefulness when my hands are on the keyboard of my device. With something like a smart speaker, I generally don’t have my phone in my face and if I need a quick answer to a question or task completed, the Assistant then becomes highly useful. With my Chromebook, however, I just hit the Search key and start typing.
When I really get down to it, I tend to only use the Assistant on smart speakers, displays and my phone to do the most rudimentary of tasks: answer questions, convert measurements, identify songs, set timers, or start/stop music playback. As it stands right now, I can only do a few of those things on my Chromebook and the most useful one – controlling audio playback – isn’t on that short list.
It looks like that is changing in Chrome OS 85 as Google is giving the Assistant access to media controls on Chromebooks right out of the box. This is actually available right now in Chrome OS 84 with a feature flag, but the good news is it looks likely that this will ship with Chrome OS 85 for all users to enjoy right out of the box with no additional settings or steps necessary.
If you flip the flag here (chrome://flags/#enable-assistant-media-session-integration), jump to the Beta Channel, or simply wait for Chrome OS 85 on September 1st, you’ll have the ability to dictate media controls from any music or video being run through your Chromebook. This includes anything playing from services like YouTube to Netflix to Spotify. If it is running on your Chromebook, you can control it with your voice via the Google Assistant. Even if that media is being cast to a speaker or TV, you can play, pause or skip tracks with just a vocal command to your Chromebook. I was even able to control playback of random, embedded audio players on multiple websites.
While I’d argue that this should have been possible a long time ago, managing all the audio and video sources on a Chromebook isn’t the simplest thing these days. With web players, web apps, PWAs, Android apps and system-level apps, those audio and video signals could be coming from a wide variety of places and Chrome OS has to figure out how to deal with them all. I suppose the Chrome OS team gets a pass, here, and I’m very happy that this new ability is here and will be able to be enjoyed by countless users in the coming weeks as it rolls out to Chrome OS 85 next month.