At CES 2022, Google will unveil a total of 13 new software capabilities, ranging from AirPods-like rapid switching to software that will mimic your Android text apps on a Chromebook. It’s part of Google’s “Better Together” project, which the rest of the industry more commonly refers to as “catching up to Apple’s ecosystem.”
Google’s “Fast Pair” framework, an Android UI designed to make pairing Bluetooth headphones easier, has seen the most upgrades. Google will expand it this year to include auto-switching between devices, faster pairing with Android TV and Google TV, and other features. It will also use the Fast Pair architecture to install new smart home devices that use the forthcoming Matter standard, making it much easier to set up a new smart lightbulb or door lock.
Wear OS 3 smartwatches will also be able to unlock associated Android phones or Chromebooks, just like an Apple Watch can. This feature will be released “in the coming months,” and additional Wear OS 3 watches should be accessible when it does. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 is currently the only major smartwatch that supports the new OS.
All of the enhancements Google is unveiling today will be available later this year, with delivery dates ranging from “in the coming weeks” to “later this year.” They’ll arrive on Android phones via software upgrades (which may or may not require full OS updates), Chromebooks, Android TV, Bluetooth headphones, and even some Acer and HP Windows computers.
That last point may turn out to be one of Google’s most significant announcements: HP, Acer, and Intel have teamed up with the company to support some of Google’s Better Together capabilities on their laptops. Users will be able to use Fast Pair, sync text messages, and share files with their forthcoming Windows PCs via Android’s Nearby Share functionality. Along with Google’s ambitions to bring Google Play games to Windows, this is yet another evidence that the firm will not rely solely on Microsoft’s technologies and partnerships for Android integration on Windows.
The Windows integrations are noteworthy, but there are more Chromebook features planned beyond Fast Pair. Google claims to be working on a system that will allow any messaging app on your phone to be mirrored on a Chromebook, allowing users to use their messaging apps directly. It will also have a feature dubbed “Camera Roll on Phone Hub,” which will make moving photos from your phone to your Chromebook much easier.
If you have an Android phone, you’ll be able to pair it with your Chromebook during setup, and some settings and account information will be carried across automatically. Wear OS watches will also be able to unlock them.
Finally, a few minor announcements are made. On the audio front, Bose speakers and soundbars will support Chromecast in the coming weeks, and Android will get spatial audio with head tracking.
Google is also working on adding support for unlocking automobiles via UWB (already accessible on Samsung phones and the Pixel 6 Pro), with BMW being the first partner, as is customary with similar car locking announcements. Volvo, which runs its dashboard computer on Android Auto, will interface with Google Assistant, allowing you to use your smart speaker to perform tasks such as remote start.
When you take a step back and look at the features as a whole, it’s tough not to see essentially identical features in the Apple ecosystem. Headphones, like AirPods, are extending Bluetooth to accommodate auto-switching and head-tracking spatial audio. iPhone and Mac users have had their default texting experience fully synchronised for a long time. AirDrop and Nearby Share are extremely similar. Unlocking with a smartwatch is also a significant perk of the Apple ecosystem.
Google usually emphasized the power of CES’s Google Assistant. This year, we’re supposed to convince Android that it works well with other devices. The challenge for Google is actually getting many different devices and manufacturers to support all these features. This is not an easy task. Perhaps one of the main reasons why none of these announcements include fixed dates or specific hardware products.