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Chromebooks at Google I/O 2021: Everything new that’s been announced

Chromebooks aren’t the flashiest product in Google’s lineup, so they rarely take the spotlight at the Google I/O developer conference. But this year, Google made the point that as a whole, Chrome OS products grew 92% year-over-year.

Between the sweeping changes to cross-platform design, updates to Google Chrome, and some new Chrome OS-specific features, there’s a lot to be excited about for the future of Chromebooks. Here’s everything new in the world of Chromebooks coming out of Google I/O 2021.

Support for Android 11

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We already knew Chromebooks would be getting updated to Android 11 (from Android 9), but there’s a bigger change in store with the implementation. Announced in one of the developer sessions, Android will no longer be running in a container. Instead, it will now run as a virtual machine to match what Chrome OS already does with Linux.

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Google says this switch will help make apps more secure, as well as “reduce divergence from mainline Android.” Though Google says the migration will be seamless for both developers and Chromebook users, the move will supposedly result in faster Android updates for Chromebooks, which is great.

Spotlighting optimized apps

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Having access to Android apps is a big feature of Chromebooks these days, but that doesn’t mean most Android apps are optimized for Chromebooks. Now, in the Google Play Store on Chromebooks, Google will be highlighting apps that it says have been “optimized” for Chrome OS devices. The idea is to both encourage developers to optimize their apps, as well as guide users to better experiences within the app store. Apple currently does something very similar with M1-optimized apps in its Mac App Store.

What makes an app qualified as optimized? According to Google, it’s apps that take advantage of the larger screen, support typical Chromebook inputs (mouse, keyboard, stylus, or game controller), and desktop-like functionality.

New Password Manager enhancements

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Google spent a lot of time talking about security and privacy at its I/O keynote, and one of the biggest changes will assumedly also apply to Chromebooks. Password Manager is already a feature in Chrome, but the announced update will make it even more useful.

First off, the new tool makes it easier to import passwords from whatever other password manager you currently use. Google also says the password manager has “deeper integrations with Chrome and Android,” allowing it to auto-fill passwords across sites and apps on multiple devices seamlessly, including on Chromebooks.

One-tap fixes to compromised passwords is already a feature on Android devices, but Google says this feature will begin rolling out to other sites and apps in the future.

Open carts in Google Chrome

Changes to Google Chrome are also a fundamental change to Chrome OS, and there were plenty of web-focused updates announced at I/O this year. Google is hoping to make shopping on Google easier, and it’s hoping to remind you of abandoned shopping carts. If you have shopping carts open on a site that you’ve closed out of, you’ll now see an icon for it appear on your main New Tab page.

Other new shopping features include connecting loyalty rewards programs to your Google accounts and improved shopping capabilities in Google image searches.

Updates to Docs and Sheets, Smart Canvas

Finally, Google has announced some major changes to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides in the form of Smart Canvas. While this isn’t a Chromebook-specific feature, it touches some important web apps that most Chromebook users rely heavily on. Smart Canvas is a way of interconnecting the applications in Google’s Workspace suite, as well as bringing some useful features onboard that more collaborative.

Once the features roll out, you’ll be able to start Google Meet video chats right in Google Docs, as well as use built-in, collaborative to-do lists. Meanwhile, the new tagging system will allow you to link between documents easily, as well as tag collaborators and even specific meetings on your calendar.

The best new Google Docs feature, though, is support for pageless view. It makes Google Docs fully responsive for the first time, which Chromebook users will appreciate.

Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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