New split-screen mode for tablets and screenshot feature borrowed from Android are telling signs.
Google’s latest Chrome update, version 64, is now making its way to Chromebooks with a number of much-needed, tablet-focused features. Those include a new split-screen feature for multitasking while in tablet mode, and a screenshot feature borrowed from Android, as noted by 9to5Google. While these are relatively standard upgrades, they do paint a picture of the future of Chrome OS as the rightful replacement for Android tablet software. As it stands now, Chrome OS is very close to taking up the mantle there, and features like this push it ever closer to becoming the hybrid OS for all types of Google-powered screens.
This has been in the works for quite a while as Google’s Chrome and Android teams have coordinated closely to ensure the influx of low-cost, hybrid computing devices like 2-in-1 Chromebooks get the best of both worlds. There is, of course, Android app compatibility on Chrome OS, an initiative that first arrived somewhat half-baked last year and has taken months to fully jell as Google worked out the kinks. For instance, just last month Google added the ability for Android apps on Chromebooks run in the background. In July of last year, Google also began embarking on a touch-focused redesign of Chrome OS to make the software more functional in tablet mode.
We’re likely not getting the full-blown merging of the two divisions and their respective platforms anytime soon, or perhaps ever, as Google has played with the idea for years without ever seeming to decide that one platform should supersede the other. In essence, however, Android remains Google’s dominant mobile OS, while Chrome OS has been taking on more responsibility as Chromebooks have steadily become more capable and tablet-like.
But this wondrous future of a perfect blend of mobile, tablet, and PC operating systems in a hardware package that converts on the fly is still frustratingly out of reach. Features like split-screen in tablet mode are great, and the absence of that feature was one of the main criticisms we had of Google’s flashy and expensive new Pixelbook 2-in-1, which arrived back in October. But Android apps on Chrome aren’t as flexible as they could be across all computing formats, as they still lack adequate stylus support.
Still, it’s clear the vision Google has here is for tablets, 2-in-1s, and standard Chromebook laptops to become one unified device category powered by Chrome OS. Yet another clue suggesting the strategy arrived last week with a now-deleted image of an Acer tablet running Chrome OS, which would make it the first standalone tablet device to do so. The image, snapped at the technology and education expo in London, means we may get a Google or even Pixel-branded Chrome OS tablet in the near future, perhaps unveiled at Google I/O in May. That would only further solidify the company’s ambitions to have Chrome power all classes of devices beyond the smartphone.