Google Assistant’s recently unveiled Ambient Mode, capable of turning smartphones and tablets into smart home hubs, will be making its way to Chromebooks next. That’s based on changes in the Chromium code repository previously thought to point to some form of screensaver mode for Chrome OS devices.
The patch, as noted by the source, simply added the “basic framework to show photos in the Ambient mode.”
A Closer look at the link between Ambient Mode & Chromebooks
With the IFA 2019 launch of Lenovo’s Yoga Smart Tab and Smart Tab M8, the term ‘Ambient Mode’ has taken on new meaning. Technically a new mode for Google Assistant, the feature effectively turns the two tablets into a smart home hub when they’re docked. That means that they can be used to control a smart home, as a digital photo frame, to play music, and more.
In the simplest terms, it makes the gadgets work like a Nest Home Hub. The feature works on Android smartphones as well as tablets and adds a wealth of new usability under a slideshow-like UI. Interactions work through both touch and voice command.
Chromebooks often ship in tablet or 2-in-1 configuration. They’re built on a Linux Kernal and for the past few years with Android available out-of-the-box. Google’s most recent updates to Chrome OS have gone so far as to add dedicated file management for Android. That’s all been part of its push to bring a consistent experience across all of its platforms.
So it stands to reason that Chromebooks will see Ambient Mode, even without the Chromium commits.
How might Chrome OS use this and when is it coming?
For the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab, no dock is required. The gadget can enter Google Assistant Ambient Mode at the touch of a button.
It would be easy enough for Ambient Mode to be enabled on Chrome OS when plugged in or when placed on a wireless charging dock for newer devices. That could be enabled via either a pin or true-wireless solution. But that also leaves out older devices that still have years of life left and Google is still looking for a consistent cross-platform experience. So it could go either way or both when the feature is finally turned on.
Most likely, the search giant will enable both an automatic and a manual method for entering Ambient Mode. 2-in-1 Chromebooks, for example, could be made to enter the mode when placed into either tent or stand mode. That would be enabled by positioning sensors already in place within those devices. Or users might be able to just tap a button on the UI’s shelf similar to turning on or off notifications.
Controls for any method would most likely be introduced behind flags and eventually in the settings as togglable options.
Because those controls and the code filling out the feature have not found their way into the code just yet, it doesn’t seem likely this feature will arrive soon. It almost certainly won’t arrive with Chrome 77. That’s slated to arrive on September 10, with Chrome 78 slated just behind in October.
The feature seems inevitable at this point but the most plausible time frame is likely with Chrome 79 or Chrome 80. Neither of which have a firm launch date scheduled for now.