One of the features that has been added to Chrome OS over the years is a bit of phone + Chromebook interaction. As it stands right now, if you have an Android phone connected to the same Google account as your Chromebook, you’ll enjoy a few extra perks like instant tethering when Wi-Fi is absent, a pretty seamless SMS/RCS messages integration, and a quick unlock feature that unlocks your Chromebook when your phone is unlocked. They are handy additions to the overall experience, sure, but there’s much more Google could be doing to unite your phone + Chromebook experience.
Take what they are doing on Windows 10 as an example. Sure, you have to install an app to get up and running with their “Your Phone” functionality between Android and Windows, but along with that install you get text message functionality, photo management, and control over your phone’s media. On certain Samsung devices, there’s even copy/paste built in that works between your different screens along with an ability to preview the phone’s screen on your laptop.
It would seem that, in some ways, Google and Microsoft have made a service that is better than what Google’s own OS is currently capable of. Granted, on a Chromebook there is nothing to add or install: you simply log in and the functionality that exists is already there. Still, having a bit more control over my phone while staring at my Chrome OS screen during the day would be a nice ability to have, and it looks like it is on the way.
Phone Hub is coming to Chromebooks
According to a few code changes unearthed by 9to5 Google, it looks like Google’s new feature will be called Phone Hub and it looks to further integrate your Android and Chrome OS experience by bringing more granular control to you phone right from your Chromebook. A new feature flag has been added for these new abilities and should be showing up in the Canary Channel any day now.
Enable Phone Hub
Provides a UI for users to view information about their Android phone and perform phone-side actions within Chrome OS.
With the current phone + Chromebook connections being more like perks, this new feature looks to fully enhance the entire experience and bring a bit of what Windows 10 already does via the “Your Phone” app natively to Chromebooks. While we can’t know the specifics of what the flag is referring to when it mentions viewing information or performing actions on the phone from Chrome OS, a bit of light can be shed on the entire effort in the form of the other commit 9to5 found in reference to the Phone Hub feature. In that commit, there is reference to where the settings for Phone Hub will live (right beneath instant tethering, smart lock, and Message in the Connected Devices settings page) and a few hints at what those additional settings will contain:
Phone Hub Notifications
Phone Hub Notifications Badge
Phone Hub Task Continuation
Looking at these settings, it is pretty clear that Phone Hub Notifications will likely be a better, more-consistent way to handle cross-device notifications. At this point, we can get multiple alerts for the same message from WhatsApp, for example, and there’s a chance that this notifications hub may prevent that from happening on services that support a more-unified notification across different systems.
The second setting – Phone Hub Notifications Badge – is likely some sort of way that Chrome OS will handle displaying your phone notifications vs. your Chromebook-initiated ones. It isn’t clear what this will look like yet or how exactly it will be implemented, but there does need to be some way for users to tell the difference between a system-level notification and one that comes from the connected phone.
The final Phone Hub Task Continuation setting is probably the most enticing. Again, at this stage there’s no way to know exactly what tasks we can expect to continue with, but it is easy to dream a bit. I’d imagine it will start with simple things like Chrome tab hand-offs, but it could easily build into something far more interesting. Imagine supported apps having the ability to seamlessly hand off what you were doing on your phone to the same app or service on the larger-screen Chromebook?
With cloud computing at the center of what we expect on Chromebooks, this reality is already somewhat in place. If I’m responding to an email in Gmail, editing a document in Drive, or making a note in Keep, I can already open up my Chromebook and continue those tasks because my work is constantly saved in the cloud. It’s awesome and I love it. I’d imaging the task continuation that this new Phone Hub will offer will fill in the gaps for some apps and services that may be far less-connected and those could be some very welcome additions to the Chromebook experience.
This could be a pretty huge change for the way Chromebooks and Android phones work together and we’re going to be keeping a very keen eye on the development of this new feature. Between this and Nearby Share, the interplay between Android and Chrome OS is going to get pretty sweet over the next few months. For Google, this is a needed move to begin leveraging all the new Chrome OS users out there that want a reason to stay with Android. For those of us who’ve been here a while, cleaner integrations between the hardware we already know and love is welcome as well.