For years now, we have been listening to — and seeing — how Chrome OS and Android are coming collectively.
The saga has stretched on for the reason that daybreak of time — or, uh, no less than since about 2015, when the Chromebooks-are-doomed refrain began confidently crooning in regards to the inevitable pending “merger” of Chrome OS and Android. On the identical time, after all, these of us who have been watching issues carefully anticipated a much more nuanced alignment of the platforms — nothing fairly as dramatic as an only-one-can-survive duel, admittedly, however a much more life like state of affairs and one we would been seeing take form for a while.
And what ended up occurring? Nicely, I am going to inform ya, you rhetorical-question-adoring alpaca: The fact of that alignment turned more and more clear over time, with Google slowly however absolutely bringing extra Android-like parts into Chrome OS (and even often bringing Chrome-OS-inspired touches into Android). Month by month, 12 months by 12 months, we have watched the 2 platforms turn out to be extra constant, extra complementary, and extra linked.
However that final half — the “linked” half — has all the time fallen frustratingly in need of its potential. Chromebooks and Android telephones definitely appear to go collectively lately, and shifting from one to the opposite is a pleasingly acquainted expertise. However whereas Google’s come a great distance with aligning the platforms’ interfaces, options, and even app alternatives, the notion of Chromebooks and Android telephones working “higher collectively” has been extra advertising fluff than significant profit — no less than, up till now.
An under-development part in Google’s open-source Chrome OS code suggests a completely new system referred to as Telephone Hub is presently within the works for Chromebooks. Telephone Hub, you say? Sure, Telephone Hub! As initially noticed by the eagle-eyed sleuths at 9to5Google, the function will apparently “present a [user interface] for customers to view details about their Android telephone and carry out phone-side actions inside Chrome OS.”
The code goes on to clarify that the Hub will embrace no less than three new choices: “Telephone Hub Notifications,” “Telephone Hub Notifications Badge,” and “Telephone Hub Activity Continuation.”
Nicely, tickle me tootsies and name me Mildred: That is kind of precisely what the Android-Chrome-OS marriage has been missing all this time. And if any of it sounds acquainted, by golly, it ought to: It is fairly related, no less than on the floor, to the Continuity system Apple provides for its various iDevices. And it’s also reminiscent of the work Microsoft is doing with its Windows-to-Android “Your Phone” setup — though that arrangement is far less native and seamless, especially on the Android side, and some of its most useful features are annoyingly limited only to recent Samsung flagships (three sarcastic cheers for customer-hurting corporate partnerships!).
Google, in contrast, has both the motivation and the means to make the Android-Chromebook connection universally powerful. And while the idea of notification syncing being brought into the equation is a nice, if overdue, notion, it’s the “Task Continuation” concept that’s most intriguing of all.
We’ve seen some teases of that sort of thing over time, like when Google added suggested article links into the Chrome OS app drawer a while back — but all those do is give you a quick way to pull pages you’d had open on your Android phone. You don’t really pick up where you left off in any meaningful way.
Similarly, this time last year, we started hearing about an effort to bring a shared clipboard of sorts into Android and Chrome OS devices where the same account is involved. But so far, all we’ve seen is a manual text-sharing setup, which is nice and handy and all but not quite the true “universal clipboard” many of us were hoping to have. (And it’s also a purely Chrome-driven feature, which means it works between Android and any other device with Chrome installed — not only a Chromebook. That certainly doesn’t take anything away from it, practically speaking, but it does make it seem like less of an Android-Chrome-OS connection, specifically.)
At this point, the main extent of Android phones and Chromebooks acting connected and working together resides within a single section of the Chrome OS settings. It’s called “Connected devices,” and it was added into the mix in 2018. The section has three basic options: pairing your Android phone with your Chromebook and empowering it to keep the Chromebook unlocked when it’s nearby, allowing your phone to share its data connection with the Chromebook in a somewhat automated sense, and enabling web-based access to your text messages on the Chromebook via the Google Messages app.
Not bad, by any stretch — but, well, the first two options have been available on Chrome OS for ages, and the third is something that’s actually available on any computer, regardless of the operating system. For all the attention this section received upon its arrival, it’s mostly just a repositioning and rebranding of a few long-available, relatively basic functions. The options themselves have remained stagnant for a long time.
This has the potential to be an important missing piece of the puzzle
Bringing a true task continuation feature into the mix would shake things up considerably. If it does what it sounds like and lets you truly pick up where you left off and pass off tasks from one device to another — in a way that’d let you move from your laptop to your phone and back almost seamlessly — well, that’d clearly bring a huge productivity advantage to anyone who uses an Android phone and a Chromebook together. It’d be a big win for us as users, obviously, and also a big win for Google as it works to emphasize the importance of the “Google ecosystem” and the benefit of using its products across different domains.
And as Google increasingly works to bring Chromebooks into the enterprise while Microsoft simultaneously revs up its own Windows-centric Android ecosystem, that could be an incredibly timely form of platform-connecting value to pitch. Think of all the Android-using businesses that might suddenly be inspired to add Chromebooks into their arsenals in order to create a more complete, convenient, and efficient experience.
Even beyond just the enterprise, I mean, really: Who among us doesn’t work across different device forms nowadays — and who among us wouldn’t want the transition from one device to the next to be more seamless and friction-free? Microsoft is running circles around Google in this area right now, despite the fact that Google’s the only company (whose name doesn’t rhyme with Schmapple) that owns and controls a widely adopted mobile operating system and desktop platform.
For now, all we can do is wait and see what happens as this feature makes its way from early development onward. But it certainly looks like it has the potential to be an important missing piece of the puzzle — one that could finish what Google started and bring Chromebooks and Android phones together in a way that’s long been promised but yet to be provided.
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get more practical tips, personal recommendations, and plain-English perspective on the news that matters.
[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.