Google wants to do for Android and Chrome users what Apple does for people in its ecosystem. It's announcing a set of news today at CES 2022 that are designed to help those using non-Apple devices easily set up, connect and share seamlessly across platforms. That involves expanding its existing Fast Pair and Chromecast capabilities to more products, as well as improving the sharing of data between Android phones and laptops. In fact, Google said that "for the first time with Android, we're also focused on building for other platforms, like Windows."
First, Fast Pair. Google is working with Acer, HP and Intel to bring Fast Pair to Windows PCs so you can quickly connect your Android phone to your laptop. You can then set up Bluetooth accessories, sync your text messages and easily share files via Nearby Share. This feature will arrive on select Windows PCs later this year.
Meanwhile, Google is also bringing Fast Pair to devices beyond wearables, cars and Bluetooth audio accessories, to include things like TVs and smart devices. It already works with the Pixel Buds and some Fitbit watches, enabling easier setup on those devices. In a few weeks, your Chromebook can automatically detect your Fast Pair-enabled headphones when you turn them on, allowing you to connect to them in a single click. New Chromebooks arriving later this year will be easier to set up, too. You can connect your Android phone and port over saved data like your Google account and Wi-Fi password.
The company said it'll let you connect headphones to Google TV or Android TV in the coming months, and that Fast Pair will work with new Matter-enabled smart home devices as well. That should make adding connected appliances to your home network easier than before. It doesn't sound as simple as Apple's HomePod setup where you can just hold your iPhone near your speaker to trigger the installation process, but we'll have to wait to see Google's solution in action to know for sure.
After your gadgets are all set up and synced with each other, Google also wants to enable convenient connections a la Apple's AirPlay or AirDrop. It's bringing Cast support to more brands, starting with all Bose smart speakers and soundbars, so you can stream music and audio from your Android phone to compatible speakers.
The company is also "building a technology for Bluetooth-enabled headphones" that will let them automatically switch audio output depending on what device you're using. Say you're wearing earbuds while watching a show on your Android tablet and a call comes in on your phone. The system will pause your movie and the headphones will switch over to your phone, then go right back to your tablet when your conversation is over. This will work for all audio playing through your devices at a system level, rather than on a supported-app-only basis. For Apple users, this is similar to how AirPods can automatically switch between iPads, iPhones and Macs.
Google says compatible headphones will also get spatial audio support so you can hear directional sound based on your head's movements for more immersive experiences. These features are coming in the next few months.
Later this year, Phone Hub on Chromebooks is also getting new features to make it more useful. For example, you won't have to install separate apps like Signal or WhatsApp on your laptop to message your friends via your phone anymore. Messages from chat apps will show up on your Chromebook and you can reply to them from there. Google is also adding Camera Roll to the Phone Hub so you can view your media without opening photos.google.com.
Locking and unlocking devices and vehicles is also getting easier. Just like you can with Apple Watch (and some Samsung devices), in the coming months you'll be able to use your paired Wear OS 3 watch to keep your Chromebook and Android devices unlocked when you're close by.
Cars are also getting an Android update. Compatible Samsung or Pixel phones will now be able to lock, unlock and start supported BMW vehicles. Later this year, too, phones with ultra wideband support can open car doors without leaving your pocket or purse. Google is also adding support for key sharing, in compliance with the Connected Car Consortium interoperable standard, so you can remotely share access to your vehicle right from your phone. The company said it's "working to bring digital car keys to more Android phones and vehicles later this year."
Finally, you'll also be able to tell the Google Assistant to warm up, cool down, lock and unlock your car and ask it for the amount of battery left in your EV. This is coming first to Volvo Cars vehicles in the coming months, "with more to follow," according to Google.
Everything Google announced today fits in with the vision of ambient computing the company has talked about for years. "This is sort of a foundational element for us to achieve the vision of ambient computing," vice president of multi-device experiences Erik Kay told Engadget. It does seem like when these updates do roll out, non-Apple users may have less reason to envy the seamless ecosystem that iPhone or Mac users enjoy.
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