To celebrate the 10th birthday of Chrome OS, Google is announcing a revamp today and a new set of tools to make the platform much more useful. Of note, it's adding a new clipboard that remembers the last five things you copied, a Phone Hub to make accessing your Android device easier and support for Nearby Share.
Phone Hub is a little dashboard that lets you access your phone's controls and see its status for things like battery life and data connectivity. Not only can you use your Chromebook to ring your Android device when you've misplaced it, you can also enable tethering with one click as well as see recent Chrome tabs on your phone. You'll continue to be able to send and receive texts from the laptop (which you could already do before with the Messages app).
Two new features make life a bit easier for those who have Android and Chrome OS devices. First, WiFi sync will let you automatically connect to trusted networks that you've used on your phone or other Chromebooks without having to re-enter passwords. And in the coming months, Nearby Share is coming to enable file sharing between your Chromebook and other Chrome OS or Android devices without an internet connection (over Bluetooth or local WiFi).
Google is also boosting the screen capture tool in Chrome OS, making it easier to access from the Quick Settings panel. You can now outline exactly what you want to copy on your display, and create screen recording videos, which will all be saved to your clipboard. Speaking of, the clipboard can now store up to five things you've copied, and you can access them from the new Tote feature. This is a holding zone for all the files you and Google think you'll need, in addition to the screen captures. You can pin files to Totes for easy access, which should come in handy for things your frequently send like checklists or reference sheets.
As part of the redesign, Google is integrating media controls directly into the Quick Settings panel for easier access and refreshing the icons for built-in apps. Sharing files, images and links between apps and your browser is becoming slightly easier — now when you click Share on supported websites, you'll see a list of apps you can send your content to directly. When you want to translate, define or convert something on your screen, right-clicking it will bring up Quick Answers in a panel so you won't need to open another tab.
The company is also updating the Desks feature by adding support for up to eight virtual workspaces and bringing a new Overview mode to make switching between them easier. Now, when your laptop reboots, your windows in various Desks will restore so you can quickly get set back up in your workflow again.
Select-to-speak, the Chrome OS screen reader, is getting improved controls including options to pause, speed up and slow down the playback. Google is also making it easier to skip to different sections of text.
Since many parents are buying their kids Chromebooks to make homework easier, Google is also making it simpler to set up Family Link, which allows students to use school accounts on their own devices. This way, parental controls can still apply while children get access to their school's apps.
With Chromebooks being the most popular laptop in schools, it's good to see some useful updates coming to the platform. For those of us on Windows (or even those on macOS), some of these features will seem more like Google bringing its desktop software closer to what we're familiar with. Chrome OS may still not be the productivity ecosystem for people who need powerful apps for work, but with these updates it appears to be starting to catch up.