Like many things at this point in 2021, Google I/O this year has been a bit…different. With no in-person get togethers or sessions, Google took things completely online and opened the conference up to anyone and everyone who wanted to attend. Though totally virtual, a lot of what makes Google I/O special still remained. We still had a main keynote, a developer keynote, smaller keynotes, and a bunch of sessions over the past few days. It’s a lot to take in as it always is, so as Chromebook fans, we wanted to put together a list of 7 key takeaways from I/O that will affect Chrome OS and Chromebook users moving forward. Let’s get into it.
Phone Hub Photos
First up, let’s talk about a sweet new trick that is coming to the Phone Hub. We know this space on Chromebooks is going to expand over time and will likely offer more and more cool stuff down the road, but this particular new feature was actually shown off during the main I/O keynote and it looks really awesome.
The idea is simple: the latest few photos you just took on your connected phone will simply be part of the Phone Hub interface for you to copy/paste or drag wherever you need them. I imagine a scenario where I’ve captured a featured image for a new post and need to get it into Gravit to tweak it for the website. As soon as I take the photo and sit back at my desk, that photo will be right there in my Phone Hub tray for use without the need of a manual file transfer or a visit to Google Photos. It’s small, it’s simple, but it sounds awesome and I can’t wait to use it.
Material You on the way
Another big announcment for Android 12 was the introduction of the new Material You design language. It’s a big departure from the existing Material Design Google employs currently, and I honestly love everything about it. From the colors to the animations to the UI elements, this looks like a great shift for Google in the design department across the board.
During the presentation, it was made clear that Material You wasn’t just for Android, but would be coming to Chrome OS as well. While we don’t know exactly which parts will show up or when, it’s exciting to look at the new designs and imagine what Chrome OS will eventually look like with that sort of paint job.
Web app and PWA updates
While not specific to Chromebooks only, web apps and their capabilities play a big role in the overall user experience of Chrome OS. In one of the sessions concerning new functionality for web-based applications, we’ve learned that a few new tricks are on the way that will make web apps feel even more native than before. The two of those changes we want to highlight are app shortcuts and notification badges.
App shortcuts are the simply the options in a pop-up menu you see when you right-click or long-press an app icon. As an example, an app like Twitter will have the ability to give you direct access to things like DMs, notifications, search and new tweet creation right from the icon and without needing to opening the app first. It’s a nice touch and, again, something that Android apps already do.
Additionally, web apps are getting notification badges like we see with Android as well. You know them and either love or hate them, but notifications badges are the little dots that sit to the side of an app icon to let you know that something needs or wants your attention. As long as they can be turned off for those of us who get anxious seeing that unread email number keep climbing, I’m all good with them showing up on web apps and hope to see them soon.
Linux coming out of Beta
Let’s talk quickly about Linux and the fact that – FINALLY – Linux on Chrome OS is exiting ‘beta’ status. The team reports improvements across the board in performance, capabilities, and updates and it seems things are ironed out enough for Google to finally call Linux a full-fledged part of the Chrome OS experience. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re happy to see what feels like the maturation of this years-long endeavor.
Unity adding Chrome OS development target
This next one may feel a bit obscure, but it is indicative of developers moving in a very positive direction. Unity (the engine many developers use to build amazing games) is adding Chrome OS as a development target in the coming months. This simply means that game makers can build games and completely tailor them for Chrome OS from the ground up, and that is encouraging. We may finally start to see some developers building experiences for Chromebooks that, from the start, were meant to be experienced on a larger screen with keyboard, mouse, touch, and controller support. Can you imagine desktop-class Android games built specifically for Chromebooks? I can! And I can’t wait to see what that could look like in the future.
Low-latency stylus API in alpha
Another great under the hood addition is the new low-latency stylus API that is coming for Chrome OS. Sure, there are a few Android apps that get stylus latency right, but most don’t. We assume this is due to the large amount of work it must take to make apps like Squid work so fluidly. With this new API, it seems more app developers will be able to plug into existing functionality for their apps moving forward and deliver great pen experiences in a much simpler fashion. Hopefully this means that every drawing or handwriting app out there will update over time and the vast majority of pen-driven applications on Chromebooks will be far better to use in the future than they are currently.
ARCVM + Android 11
Finally, we knew this last one was coming and is already a reality for some users, but Google has made it very official in multiple sessions that Android 11 is on the way for Chrome OS for many devices and this time it will be living in a fresh, new Virtual Machine instead of the old ARC container. What’s that mean? Well, it basically makes Android more stable, gives users access to the latest APIs and features, improves security, makes everything far more maintainable, reduces divergence from mainline Android, and makes it simpler to keep Android up to date in the future. These are all huge wins from any perspective, and we’re glad to see Google continuing to take the friction out of making great Android app experiences on Chromebooks.
For now, that’s it. There are your 7 key takeaways from Google I/O 2021 that you can be on the lookout for over the coming weeks. We’ll be keeping our eyes out for the arrival of all these features and more, so if you want to keep up, be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel and make sure you are signed up to get our newsletter as well so you don’t miss a post!