It feels like we’ve been talking about better Bluetooth, improved Bluetooth, or fixing Bluetooth on Chromebooks for far too long. We have our suspicions that Bluetooth is going to get a major fix in the form of Bluetooth 5.0 in future Chromebooks as we’ve previously reported. That fix looks to include another Bluetooth protocol update in the form of WBS (wide-band speech) that should begin arriving with the ‘Hatch’ line of Chromebooks.
While we’ve not seen a ton of actual hardware from the ‘Hatch’ line of boards just yet, it is safe to wager we’ll see quite a few at CES in January if not before. The yet-unannounced ASUS C436 is the first Chromebook we have connected to a ‘Hatch’ baseboard (‘Helios’ specifically), but we expect to see many of these devices break cover in the next 6-8 weeks for sure.
When they do start to arrive, they should usher in an era where Chromebooks aren’t riddled with Bluetooth issues left and right. As we’ve discussed before, the changes in Bluetooth and the upgrades happening may or may not affect older devices: we’ll just have to wait and see on that. This new WBS addition could technically be added to older devices with Bluetooth 4.2, but it isn’t clear if Google is adding this into the Newblue update we expect to see come along with the new Bluetooth 5.0 devices coming soon.
So, what will WBS do, then? Basically, this will enable a much better vocal fidelity when using a Bluetooth accessory to make phone calls or video calls. While general consumers only do this from time to time on their Chromebooks, Enterprise users likely do this quite frequently. With the proliferation of truly wireless Bluetooth earbuds now fully utilizing Bluetooth 5.0, it only makes sense that Chromebooks can make regular calls and video calls a much better experience when using these accessories. Here’s the language in the commit associated with this change from the Chromium Repositories:
hatch: enable wbs on all hatch series board
Enable Bluetooth HFP wideband-speech feature on hatch series boards. User will have better audio quality when using voice call on some bluetooth headsets also support wideband-speech.
Google has their own Bluetooth 5.0 wireless earbuds (Pixel Buds) debuting early in 2020, so I’d expect them to have all this sorted and working by then. Additionally, if Bluetooth Fast Pair is available by then, we should expect users of Android phones to be able to pair up the Pixel Buds one time and have the Pixel Buds available on all their connected devices. A simple switch of the audio output on the device they are currently using will be all they’ll need to leverage their ear buds on that particular screen. Once that functionality is in place, I could see a ton of people initiating and taking calls or video chats on their Chromebooks during the day. WBS will make that a much better experience across the board.