I gotta be honest. I was starting the think that, perhaps, Google had abandoned its aspirations to make Chrome OS a viable gaming platform. For months, we have been digging and tinkering with the hopes of getting ‘Borealis‘, a.k.a. Steam for Chrome OS up and running on one of the latest 11th Gen Intel devices we have around the office. Based on the rough timeline we unearthed in the Chromium repository, I really expected that Google would make some sort of announcement about Steam on Chrome OS near the end of the summer of 2021. When that time arrived with no news from Google, we started to wonder if maybe things had been put on hold in order to prep a coordinated strike around CES 2022 when Intel, Qualcomm, MediaTek, and all the Chromebook manufacturers were rallied in one place. Alas, that was not the case.
With just a few days left in the month, Google and Valve both remain completely tight-lipped about project Borealis and the future of native Steam gaming on Chrome OS. Whatever the delay, a new discovery by 9to5Google’s Kyle Bradshaw has revived my hopes that Google is still very much committed to bringing gaming for the masses to Chromebooks and Chrome OS devices. While not directly tied to Steam or Borealis, this little nugget points to a new generation of Chromebooks that could be aimed squarely at gamers.
RGB Keyboard: Add feature flag
– Feature flag to enable support for RGB keyboards on supported devicesChromium Repository
What is an RGB keyboard?
In simple terms, it is a backlit keyboard on which the lighting consists of Red, Green, and Blue LEDs. These LEDs can be adjusted to change not only the brightness but the hue of the keyboard lighting. The combinations created with the RGB LEDs is all but endless and it allows you to tweak the color of your keyboard light to fit your personal style and device’s aesthetic. Some keyboards, like my mechanical AUKEY RGB keyboard, come with customizable presets that give you a moving effect for your RGB lighting.
Anyway, RGB keyboards are for anyone but the main user base for these peripherals is definitely gamers. As a matter of fact, recent years have seen OEMs adding in-built RGB keyboards to their respective gaming laptops. Devices like Lenovo’s Legion Y740 feature a plethora of accent lighting and that includes a built-in RGB keyboard. Apart from looking cool, customizable RGB keyboards can assist gamers in quickly finding specific keys based on color and location. Just for giggles, here’s a hands-on from Dave2D with the ASUS Strix G15 gaming laptop that has an RGB keyboard.
So, what does all this have to do with gaming on Chromebooks? Glad you asked. While you can buy an external RGB keyboard from just about any electronics retailer, laptops with RGB keyboards are reserved for the gaming segment. Now, Kyle’s discovery surrounding the addition of RGB keyboards could have been Google giving Chrome OS the ability to manage customizable peripherals but some further digging from Mr. Bradshaw proves otherwise.
Not one but two separate 12th Alder Chromebooks that are currently in development have recently added support for the RGB keyboard module. Taniks and Vell have been in development since late last year and thanks to Robby’s research, we have a good idea who’s making them. Vell is very likely being created by HP while Taniks is clearly a Lenovo device. No surprise to see potential gaming devices from these two makers. HP’s OMEN series offers laptops that range from casual gamers to hardcore eSports competitors and Lenovo’s Legion line offers a wide array of laptops, towers, and accessories that are the official PC products of the Apex Legends Global Series.
Interestingly enough, these aren’t the only devices getting an upgrade to utilize RGB. A new keyboard codenamed ‘Ripple‘ will use the RGB module. What makes that interesting is the fact that individual keyboards don’t usually get their own codename. Detachable keyboards, on the other hand, do. Deep in the commit for Ripple, there’s a reference to Hammer which happens to be the baseboard for any and all detachable Chromebooks. Ripple could very well become the parent of any upcoming detachable or even freestanding Chrome OS keyboards with RGB lighting.
Why it matters
In the grand scheme of things, an RGB keyboard may not seem very exciting. However, this is a very good indicator that Google is doubling down on Chrome OS gaming. You don’t see very many laptops of any flavor that have an RGB keyboard. The ones that do are 100% intended for gaming. I can’t think of any logical reason as to why Google would be working with OEMs to get RGB keyboards up and running in the soon-to-arrive generation of Alder Lake Chromebooks unless they will arrive with real-deal Steam gaming. Sure, you can play Stadia on Chrome OS and it’s totally awesome but Stadia isn’t drawing hardcore PC gamers and those are the buyers that look for hardware like a customizable RGB keyboard. Hopefully, Google will make an announcement about Borealis and Steam in the coming months to get the ball rolling before these new Chromebooks hit the market. I… can’t… wait!!!