Chrome OS 73 is expected to begin rolling out across the board starting March 19 and based on recent reports and release notes, that’s going to deliver new Linux optimizations, tablet bug fixes, accessibility features, and more. The optimizations for tablet devices and tablet mode for 2-in-1 Chromebooks will likely affect the most users.
Specifically, the Chrome team says it is optimizing out bugs in overview mode and app switching in scenarios where fullscreen is not engaged. Latency and visual aberrations have plagued tablet mode for quite some time and the improvements build on those introduced in Chrome 72. The team notes that it wasn't able to finalize the incoming fixes in the previous version of Chrome OS and says that further performance improvements will roll out with other updates moving forward.
Although unlikely to be as widespread in use, and no less impactful, several accessibility enhancements are inbound as well, including the ability to link up a Chrome OS gadget with a braille display via Bluetooth. The operating system already supports USB-based braille displays but the change will enable the user of wireless displays in the same category. Following that same vein, the update is scheduled to introduce eSpeak for Chrome OS with better eyes-free text-to-speech across “dozens of languages.”
The Chrome OS camera is set to receive a much-needed update to version 5.3 too, letting users set three or ten-second timers, line up snaps with new grid options, and adding a mirror button for use with external cameras. That includes USB-driven microscopes or "document" cameras.
On the enterprise side of things, Chrome OS 73 brings support for managed guests and better management of Linux app access for managed devices.
Stability and accessibility
Stability and UI improvements included in the update to Chrome OS 73 track closely with those found in the previous release of the OS, indicating that these are mostly refinements to previous updates. In addition to some improvements to the use of tablet or tablet-configurations in 2-in-1 gadgets, the prior set of changes saw the implementation of a better UI for the Chrome Browser itself in those hardware formats. In effect, the alterations improved white space usage and allowed the UI to adjust for more intuitive tap interactions.
Accessibility has been improved over the past several updates as well with even more on the way in the future. Among more noteworthy features included in that is the recent addition of a method to bypass limitations of screen readers, allowing Google to provide descriptions for images where the associated metadata is lacking. There's no guarantee that will finally be rolled out with this update but each successive update shows a continued commitment to those features on Google's part.
Continued improvements moving forward
At least two other features that are on the way in a future Chrome update but unlikely to appear in version 73 or even 74 are a system-wide dark mode and improvements to file management. The latter of those stretches across a range of incoming features, bringing expectations that Chrome OS will finally allow more PC-like local file management in terms of both the built-in hardware and SD storage.
A dark mode has already arrived, to a certain extent, in both recent updates to the Chrome Canary Channel and desktops with Chrome 73. For the time being, only macOS has a fully implemented dark mode for Chrome but Windows and Linux are expected to follow in short order. The initial rollout of Android Q Beta 1 shows that dark mode is well into the development process on that platform as well. So it stands to reason that same change is going to arrive on Chrome OS soon enough — although it is probably several updates out.