More Dev Channel Users See Android Messages Chrome OS Features

Google's cross-platform connectivity between Android and Chrome OS, collectively referred to as "Better Together," seems to be slowly spreading to more devices on the latter operating system's Developer Channel, according to recent reports. Specifically, the reports indicate that at least one user on a Samsung Chromebook Plus was able to link together a Google Pixel 2 XL and the Chrome OS convertible and that others are seeing the feature appear as well. For the time being, Better Together is not appearing outside of the unstable test channels of the OS and does not look as though it works with handsets other than the Pixel 2-branded devices. Aside from needing to be on the Developer Channel, there are also several 'flags' menu settings that apparently need to be switched to 'enabled' first, which can make the system very unstable depending on the Chrome OS device in use. Those can be found at the "chrome://flags" experimental feature site and include "Android Messages integration", "Enable unified MultiDevice settings", "Enable unified MultiDevice setup", and "Instant Tethering" flags.

Background: Better Together began with integration between Google's Pixel-branded smartphones and Chrome OS laptops as a way to keep the latter device unlocked and enable instant tethering between the two. That was followed by the introduction of a web solution that allows for any Chrome user on any platform to receive and send text messages on any device simply by linking their phone and having it nearby. That was purely web-based and, as a result, not necessarily well optimized. Changes to the search giant's Android Messages APK back in June indicated that deeper integration of SMS-based messaging between Chrome OS and Android was also in the works. The change and those that followed in Chromium Commits showed that Chromebooks and Android devices would, at some point in the future, be intrinsically linkable at the system level through the protocols associated with progressive web apps (PWAs).

That would not only allow for a similar functionality but also for a range of other advantages. For example, it could enable offline modes more similar to how a handset can already queue up a message to be sent once connectivity is restored in addition to enhancing performance, speed, and responsiveness over other web standards. Beyond that, PWAs perform more like applications in terms of UI and experience without the need to install anything from any app stores. Moreover, as shown in the screenshots provided to the source, integration at the OS level has other advantages as well. For starters, it means that Google can turn on or improve on-device settings and personalization on the Chrome OS platform by separating each Better Together feature into its own settings menu. With the most recent update to the feature, those are placed under a Connected Devices subheading, although that may be changed before the feature is finalized. There is also an indication that more features will be added in the future. That's something that a PWA should make easier too since changes can be made on the server side rather than via the rollout of an updated application.

Impact: With that said, prior to the new reports and while everything is still under development, the feature has only been supported on Google's own Pixelbook devices. That's still true in terms of smartphone compatibility but its appearance on some other Chromebooks indicates that it is getting much closer to being finished. In the meantime, there's no indication as to when that might happen. The changes in question would be appearing in the Developer Channel for Chrome OS 71 since that's the current Dev version. So it seems plausible that could be the version for which Better Together finally becomes widely available.

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