QR codes may have been around since the mid-1990s, but they have become more popular than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic—you'll find them on mobile orders, Instagram, and even in Android's Wi-Fi settings. While those boxy, square designs may seem like gibberish at a glance, they offer a wide range of contactless convenience in our socially distant times. With this in mind, it was only a matter of time until compatible scanners started appearing on other platforms, including Chrome OS.
The Gallery app on Chrome OS is one of the few native apps that has stuck around since Google launched the operating system nearly a decade ago. Much like the file manager, its existence felt like an afterthought, collecting dust as the company continued to roll out OS updates. Although it received a significant visual overhaul and a name change to "Media app" in 2020, it still lacks essential photo editing capabilities. However, that's changing soon, as Google is experimenting with three new features that will really add some value.
It's been a couple of years since the Chrome OS UI got any considerable design updates, some of which were polarizing changes that stirred controversy in the Chromebook community. Google has since been steadily updating its core apps and system UI to a more modern Material Design style, including the new Media app and tablet mode experience that rolled out in the Chrome OS Stable channel this year. If there's one component that still feels out of place, it's the login and lock screen—more specifically, the password field. That's changing soon, though, as Google is experimenting with a refreshed text field to make it look more consistent with other system UI elements.
It's been a few months since we covered Google's ambition to bring tighter integration to two of its core hardware products. Dubbed Phone Hub, the feature aims to enhance the relationship between your Android smartphone and Chromebook. Shortly after a visual prototype made its way to the Canary and Dev channels via a Chrome flag, it mysteriously vanished from the system tray and—until recently—has not made a return. While we still don't have a functional version of it today, Phone Hub received many visual and backend updates that give us a glimpse of what Google is cooking up to bring your phone and Chromebook closer together.
Android apps have had a rough history on Chromebooks ever since Google brought them to Chrome OS in 2016. From a lackluster app ecosystem to nasty bugs like the app scaling issue that nearly made it into Chrome OS 86 Stable, Google has attempted to create a compelling Android app experience for users to enjoy, but with little luck. With Chrome OS 87 due in a few more days, Google's operating system finds itself in another predicament that makes the typing experience in Android apps incredibly frustrating.
The demand for flatbed scanners and printers has never been higher since the global pandemic brought students and employees home. Although document scanning on a PC operating system is easy thanks to broad software support from manufacturers, Chromebook owners have had to rely on workarounds to digitize their papers on Chrome OS. With the release of the native print jobs app on OS 86, it looks like Google is close to bringing a native scan tool to everyone.
We all know how annoying it is when your internet connection suddenly drops out. While PC operating systems have built-in diagnostic features to help frustrated users get back online, Chromebook owners have had to download and install the Chrome Connectivity Diagnostics app manually. With the clock ticking on Chrome apps, it looks like Google's trying once again to bring user-friendly network diagnostics to Chromebooks, in the form of a new native tool.
Google loves iterating on software design, but it often takes some time for its new ideas to trickle down to all its products. The refreshed Material Design principles visible in applications like Gmail are present in some parts of Chrome OS, but not others. That's changing soon, though, as the operating system's decidedly stale Files browser is getting a refresh.
Digital assistants are at their best when you don't need to go out of your way to get their help. Google is working on a new feature that'll make its own Assistant much handier in Chrome OS, and you can try it out today on the Canary channel.
Google is constantly working on improving and tweaking Chrome, and the best place to witness changes before they're finalized and ready for everyone is the developer preview version, Canary. One of the recent features to come to the browser on desktops is Tab Strips. When you activate the correct flags linked to it on v79, an extra button appears in the toolbar. It lets you enlarge the tab overview and see thumbnails of the websites you're browsing.