In the second half of last year, as development of ‘Eve’ (now known as the Pixelbook) was moving into high gear ahead of the October launch, one of the things that was perplexing for us here at Chrome Unboxed was the addition of Wake on Voice being added to the board files. Wake on Voice is something we’ve seen on phones and devices like Google Home, but never on a Chromebook.
What was it? How would it be used? What was the end-game?
So far, it seems Wake on Voice is limited to the Google Assistant being able to be awakened by your voice and the “OK Google” hotword. Sure, back then we hoped you’d be able to summon your Chromebook from across the room, but alas it seems like Wake on Voice is mainly for use when you Chromebook is already unlocked. As for me, that is fine. I don’t really like my phone listening at all times for the hotword, so I imagine I wouldn’t want my Chromebook doing so either.
All that aside, what we are seeing right now in the Chromium Repositories is a small explosion of devices, boards, and chips being outfitted with the same Wake on Voice feature that the Pixelbook employs. This is normally the part where I link up a commit or two, but this is a bunch of commits across a bunch of boards and devices. They can be found by searching WoV and Wake on Voice in the repositories if you need proof.
What This Hopefully Means
We’ve been talking about Google Assistant on Chromebooks dating all the way back to 2016. That obviously hasn’t happened, but we have clearly seen Assistant come to one Chromebook in the form of the Pixelbook. So far, nothing else has followed.
Back in February, we reported on a find from XDA that showed a flag was being added for the Google Assistant integration, but we’ve not seen any further developement on that front just yet.
These findings from the repositories are a pretty clear indicator that widespread Google Assistant integration is finally on the way for many Chromebooks. At this point, it is almost impossible to say which devices will or will not get it. Many of the commits are in reference to Kaby Lake boards, so it may end up that Google Assistant is a feature on future Chromebooks only, but I don’t think that is the case.
Take this commit, for example. This is clear proof that development is happening on the ‘Reef’ reference board which powers a ton of education-focused, Apollo Lake Chromebooks. While these Chromebooks sell well and are prolific in schools, they aren’t the top-tier, flagship devices you’d expect to see brand new features on.
And that’s my point. If even the basic education devices are getting this, it stands to reason that there will be many devices to get this in the coming months. We’ve all known for months that Google’s plan was to bring Google Assistant to as many devices as possible, and it looks like we may be on the threshold of that happening for many Chromebook users in the very near future.