One of my favorite things about Chrome OS is the constant feeling that we’re on the edge of great, new technology all the time. Being an OS that is formed mainly around web-based applications and services, Chrome OS takes full advantage of the emerging web-focused tech that is springing up almost daily. Sure, we have Android Apps, Linux apps in the works and heavy rumors of the ability to dual-boot Windows, but the real purpose of a Chromebook is to run web-based tasks better than anything else.
So, when new and awesome web-focused features show up, we get pretty excited.
Today’s announcement from Google highlights the recent focus on Android Messages as its last-ditch messaging platform and is finally bringing text messaging to the web. The service is only halfway rolled out at this point, but Google is promising the other half this week. I’ll explain all that in just a second, but I want to at least mention the other features showing up in the Android Messages app soon.
Google is touting the addition of a web interface, GIF search support, smart replies, link previews within conversations, and one-time password copy. Google isn’t saying which features will or will not make it to the web interface for now, so we’ll quickly cover them in the event that we’ll see them on our Chromebooks later this week.
Web Interface – This is without doubt the biggest announcement, here. Much like Allo worked with a web interface, the Android Messages app will have a Messages for Web item in the menu that will allow you to scan a QR Code generated at the messages.android.com address on your device of choice. After that, your devices will be paired up. It looks like Google has also added a “Remember this computer” option as well, so I’m hopeful that you’ll be able to link up a couple computers if that suits your needs better.
How the overall function will work is not clear at this point, and until I give it a try, I don’t want to comment just yet. After all, RCS (or Chat) hasn’t really rolled out to users just yet, so some of this work is just laying a foundation for the full RCS rollout later this year by the various carriers. However, the ability to get up and running on your desktop will likely push more users to actually go back to using Messages a bit more than they used to. I’ll be very interested to see how it functions when messaging from one desktop/laptop to another. Since a carrier won’t be involved in those messages, it stands to reason that those messages may move faster and start taking advantage of all the cool stuff RCS can offer much sooner than our phones will.
GIF Search – This is exactly what you think it is, and GBoard users can already do this within the keyboard. Integrated GIF support is always welcome, though, and I’m really hoping this will be available on the web version.
Smart Replies – Available in Gmail and Allo, smart replies are just AI-powered, canned responses that end up coming in really handy when you don’t have time to type up a reply. The more you use the app, the better they get. They are also available in your notifications, so that makes them even more useful. Here’s hoping, again, that Chrome OS will implement these in the inline replies now available in the notifications.
Link Previews – These work in many messaging apps and I find them very useful. Basically, when you copy in a URL, a quick preview of the content shows up and becomes visible to all in the chat. Many times it gives much-needed context to a random link dropped into a chat, so this is a very welcome thing.
One-Time Password Copy – If you’ve ever reset a password or verified a login with your phone, you know the fun that is copying a verification code from a text message while hoping you don’t mess anything up on the app you are trying to log into. With this feature, you get a quick copy link in your notifications so you don’t have to leave the app you are authorizing. Pretty handy.
That’s really it, but the addition of a web-based messenger solution is much-needed and welcome. The other half of the equation is yet to roll out from what we can tell at this point. That other half is the actual Messages for Web menu option in the Android app. Right now, it simply isn’t there, but some of these other features are already showing up. I am seeing smart replies already, so I’m inclined to think these features can be turned on server-side by Google and we’ll start seeing them as the week rolls on.
There’s a pretty big visual overhaul coming too if the images on Google’s landing page is any indication. Hopefully, all this becomes usable by week’s end and we can report back on how well it is all working.