During the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show, Google announced some major improvements to its Better Together initiative for Android, Chrome OS, headphones, speakers, smart home devices, and more. As the number of connected devices in our houses and in our lives increases, the company has found that they’re not actually as connected as they could be. Because of this, the improvements we’ll be taking a look at today are slated for release over the next few weeks, months, and the duration of 2022 in an effort to fill the gaps between how your devices communicate with each other.
Quickly set up and connect your devices
First up, Google is making it possible to use its new Fast Pair feature to connect your headphones to Google TV and other Android TV OS devices. In the image below, you’ll notice that a pair of Pixel Buds are being wirelessly connected to a Chromecast with Google TV via Bluetooth. I recall back when I worked at Best Buy, a ton of folks would come in hoping to buy a Bluetooth accessory that would allow them to connect a pair of earphones to their big screen TV, only to walk away with nothing or a weird little dongle.
In my opinion, such a feature is long overdue, and I’m glad to see the company adding it natively into the ecosystem. More and more people have an interest in listening to their televisions without disturbing their loved ones while they work or sleep. It’s 2022 now, so it’s about time this comes standard with modern tech. Google states that Fast Pair for the aforementioned TV setups will be available ‘in the coming months’. Let’s hope that Chromecast user profiles get priority over this though! Don’t forget that the whole idea of Fast Pair is to allow for effortless setup without having to go into the Settings section of your device – pretty cool.
Second, Google Home and other accompanying smart home apps will be able to use the same Fast Pair technology to connect Matter-enabled devices to your home network. We spoke about Matter yesterday while discussing Cync’s new offerings, so if you read that, you’ll know that Matter is a unified, industry-wide developed and agreed upon method for connecting things by stitching together many different connections like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more. I imagine this means that the moment you take a smart bulb, thermostat, or any other smart device out of the box for your home convenience or security, your Home app will instantaneously identify it and hook it up on your behalf.
We’ve spoken about Fast Pair before in regards to Chrome OS since we’ve seen the feature slowly being developed on the Canary channel, and today’s announcement means that it’s becoming official – no more developer flag necessary! If you’re looking for it via an update right now, you may want to sit tight though, it’s rolling out over the next few weeks to all compatible Chromebooks.
Using your phone, you will also be able to set up a new Chromebook out of the box or after a powerwash later this year. In the example below, you can see the “Chromebook Quick Start” feature which allows your phone to auto-detect your Chromebook (likely using the same Fast Pair technology). Once it does, you’ll be asked to verify the shapes on your device screens match. If they are identical, your phone’s saved Wi-Fi credentials will transfer over to your Chromebook, connect it to the internet, and then it will ask you to sign in to your Google Account using the biometrics or password method on your phone. Once “Chromebook Quick Start” is finished, you can begin using your new laptop!
This new abundance of methods for getting your brand new devices set up gives me a renewed hope for the smart home of the future. It should be ‘thoughtful’ as Nest keeps saying – not just ‘smart’. Now, if Google could just get my phone to stop answering for my smart speakers, that would be great.
More ways to lock and unlock your devices
Google is giving you more reasons to use your Android phone in conjunction with your other devices with this update as well. Being able to intelligently lock and unlock things with nothing but the handheld in your pocket is truly a convenience that we take for granted in the 21st century. However, the company is taking things a step further by letting you do the reverse. In the coming months, you’ll be able to unlock your Chromebook, Android phone, or tablet with your wrist. Well, not your wrist, exactly, but your connected Wear OS smartwatch! This may finally entice me to wear my Michael Kors for something other than workouts (if the battery didn’t suck so bad). Either way, it sure beats taking my phone out of my pocket and looking at it awkwardly to unlock my laptop.
To build on that reverse connection between devices – and we’ve spoken about this before today’s official announcement – Google is utilizing the UWB (Ultra-wideband) technology in your Pixel and Samsung phones to let you unlock your new BMW (you know, the BMW you totally just bought before reading this). In addition, you’ll be able to share ‘keys’ with your friends and family so they can take the car out for a spin while you’re away. People casually do that with BMWs, right?
Get things done and share media across devices
Alright, let’s move on to getting things done. I can’t tell you how annoyed it makes me to receive a phone call on my phone while I’m connected to my Chromebook with my Pixel Buds. There’s no way I’m going to quickly disconnect from my media to answer you if you dial me – I’m sorry, I’m not that nice (especially if it’s during the bridge of a great song with lots of bass).
‘In the coming months’ (Google’s favorite non-commital timeframe), your Bluetooth-enabled headphones or earbuds (or hearing aids!) will gain the ability to auto-swap over to another device if you begin playing media on it. Basically, if you receive a call, and choose to answer it, you’ll be instantly thrown over to the active device without having to wrangle the Bluetooth connection settings by yourself. That’s pretty sweet, I’m not gonna lie, but I’m still not answering the phone! Both the source and the target devices will show you a notification stating that you’re answering the call somewhere else or that your audio has been moved over.
Other audio updates today include spatial audio on headsets adapting to sound based on how you move your head (that’s insanely cool), Chromecast built-in arriving on all Bose speakers and soundbars with other brands adopting it down the line, The ability to view and reply to your Android phone messages and chat apps on your Chromebooks without having to install them (Hello, Eche!), your Camera Roll appearing in Phone Hub for quick access to recently snapped photos, and more. All of this will be appearing in updates over the next few weeks and months. Google didn’t give specific launch dates for many of these features, but they’re in the immediate future.
Connect your Android phone to your Windows PC
Alright, rounding things off, we have a new way to connect your Android Phone to your Windows 10 or 11 PC. Microsoft already offers something like this, but now it’s Google’s turn! Using Fast Pair (once again), you’ll be able to quickly and wirelessly connect your handheld to your Acer, HP, and Intel Windows desktops to set up Bluetooth accessories, sync text messages, and share files with Nearby Share.
There’s obviously a ton here that was announced, and it’s going to take some time to make it all available to the public, but I’m glad to see Google finally have a clear roadmap for what it wants to achieve. Almost everything here is probably already fully developed and is just being tested as Googlers dogfood it and squash the bugs. Which of these Better Together updates most catches your eye? Let me know in the comments below. More importantly, what’s missing from this list that you’d like to see improve this year?