With Google I/O just around the corner, we can expect a slew of announcements in mobile and Android. Android has always been a highlight of I/O ever since it arrived on scene, but this year we think Google could very well be showcasing Chrome and Chrome OS more substantially.
The chief reason is the convergence aspect, which Apple has emphasised heavily in the WWDC announcements. But Google has been striving for a consistent experience in terms of UX and design in Chrome and Android. This year, we could see it come to fruition.
Google is in a different position than Apple or Microsoft as it doesn’t really have a legacy in the personal computing space. While Apple and Microsoft have historically had highly successful PC platforms, Google has relied on web services and products that run on these platforms, until it decided to launch Chrome.
Chrome has been the lynchpin of Google’s attempt to take over your computer. It had the vision to see that a browser could do everything that a PC is used for, by simply plugging in open Web standards. As more and more of our requirements from a PC could be packed into it, it was logical to fork the browser out into a separate OS.
Chrome as the Trojan horse
Chrome OS has come a long way since its first incarnation when it was criticised for being a glorified browser. Today, it’s still a low footprint OS, capable of running in-browser and out-of-browser apps and light games on hardware that would cripple Windows. This gave it an advantage in terms of production and costs. The number of manufacturers lining up to produce Chrome OS machines is enough reason to take it seriously.
With it having the lions’ share of all browsing usage in the US and other parts, Chrome browser can be said to be Google’s biggest PC play. In a way, it’s Google’s Trojan horse for Windows and Mac. If you are using Chrome as a browser on either platform you get nearly all the functionality one would get on a Chromebook.
Taking aim at Apple
With so many users already using Chrome, Google has been slowly integrating Android features within the browser. Mirrored notifications, Google Now integration, and Google Voice, meant users could rely on their PCs for some phone activities.
The next logical step would be deeper notifications access. At the moment, we are able to dismiss notifications from Chrome on our Android devices, but with Apple’s announcement of Continuity and Handoff, Google is under pressure to deliver similar functionality.
That could very well come from actionable Android notifications in Chrome, such as the ability to respond to messages from Chrome, which is not possible currently, with the exception of a few third-party apps. We would be highly surprised if this is not a headline feature in the next versions of Android and Chrome.
In fact, with Google Cloud Messaging, Google has already made cross-device notifications a cinch, this could easily be expanded for other tasking and actions. Handoff, which will let Mac users continue their work on iPads or iPhones seamlessly, is another key new feature announced by Apple. Google is well positioned to match this as it moved Docs and Sheets into standalone apps earlier this year. With the entire productivity application suite also tied to the cloud, things are set up nicely for Handoff-like functionality.
We expect Google to greatly emphasise the fact that any such functionality will be largely device-agnostic (i.e support for Windows, Mac, Android etc), which clears one of the biggest hurdles in Apple’s Continuity.
Touch optimisation and UI changes
Besides deeper Android integration, we are also expecting UI changes in Chrome OS. With Lenovo launching touchscreen Chromebooks, we will likely see Google expanding touch functionality for its OS. It also makes sense considering 2-in-1 and hybrid devices are being heavily promoted by OEMs and chip makers like Intel.
We have already seen evidence of voice-controlled Google Now functionality coming to Chrome OS. In addition, there’s speculation that Google could revamp UI of specific apps to be more consistent across Chrome OS and Android. It’s part of the Quantum Paper redesign efforts that has already been seen in the likes of the Google+ app for Android. We have seen a similar design leak for the desktop version of Gmail and the Calendar Android app.
With Microsoft targeting the low-end market with license-free Windows for some devices and OEMs, Google has an eye on this segment too. We expect some announcements for cheaper Chromebooks, either in the form of hardware tie-ups, or actual devices at the event.
Chipset maker Rockchip has already revealed a reference design based on RK3288 SoC (quad-core ARM Cortex A17 CPU running at 1.8GHz) at Computex 2014 which could be the base for cheaper Chromebooks in general. In fact, Rockchip has said the Chromebooks based on this platform will be releasing in August or September this year.
Google I/O kicks off on June 25 and we will be covering all the announcements live on Tech2. Stay tuned as we bring you more previews through this week, and if you are already itching to know what other things I/O will bring, do check out our Google I/O previews for Android TV, and the potential home automation features that Google could announce.