The latest ChromeOS update delivers several accessibility improvements

It’s been a big day for the Chrome platform. Not only has the mobile app received an update to its search function, but Chromebooks are receiving a patch in the form ChromeOS M126. It's not a major refresh, but it does introduce several quality-of-life improvements that collectively aim to make the system more accessible. There isn’t a specific focus on anything in particular, as multiple features are being updated.

Starting from the top, the Chromebook Camera app is obtaining Super Resolution. This gives the laptop’s camera the ability to zoom in on objects if they don’t have a built-in optical motor. However, on certain “high-performance Chromebooks,” Super Resolution can visually enhance the photos it captures. Exactly which models will get this is unknown.

Next on the visual updates is the Magnifier tool integrating into Select to Speak. Now, whenever Select to Speak reads words aloud, Magnifier will automatically follow and enlarge text as it goes along “so you never lose your place.” Google states you’ll need both tools enabled to see the feature. Additionally, you can zoom in further by pressing the Ctrl, Alt, and Brightness Up keys. Replacing the last key with Brightness Down lets you zoom out.

People who are photosensitive or have cognitive differences can also turn the blinking cursor rate for a more comfortable user experience.

Extra tools

The rest of the patch moves away from accessibility updates and more towards offering users extra tools. Quick Start, for example, is now available on Chromebook and allows users to connect their Android smartphone to their computer as a fast way to migrate Wi-Fi and Google Account login information when setting up a Chromebook for the first time. It will let you set up a Chromebook without entering a single password – pretty handy. 

Parents will appreciate these next set of changes, as the company is splitting “permissions for sites, extensions, and apps” to offer more granular parental control options. Supervised accounts also need to ask for approval before they can install an extension.

A new system option has been added to the Settings menu to turn off the swiping gesture when navigating between pages. Last but not least, Google is launching multi-calendar support to let you view events from multiple sources via the Google Calendar app.

ChromeOS M126 will be rolling out over the coming days, so watch for the patch when it arrives. Do note that your device may not be immediately “eligible.” We reached out to Google for clarification on what would make a Chromebook ineligible, and we'll report back if we hear back.

In the meantime, check out TechRadar's list of the best Chromebook in 2024.

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Could ChromeOS eventually run on your Android phone? Google’s demo of exactly that is an exciting hint for the future

A recent report has revealed that Google held a private demonstration that showed off a tailored version of ChromeOS, its operating system (OS) for Chromebooks, running on an Android device. Of course, Android is the operating system for Google's smartphones and tablets, while ChromeOS was developed for its line of Chromebook laptops and Chromebox desktop computers.

Unnamed sources spoke with Android Authority and shared that Google hosted a demo of a specially built Chromium OS (an open source version of ChromeOS hosted and developed by Google), given the codename ‘ferrochrome,’ showing this off to other companies. 

The custom build was run in a virtual machine (think of this as a digital emulation of a device) on a Pixel 8, and while this Android smartphone was used as the hardware, its screen wasn't. The OS was projected to an external display, made possible by a recent development for the Pixel 8 that enables it to connect to an external display.

A recent report has revealed that Google held a private demonstration that showed off a tailored version of ChromeOS, its operating system  for es it possible to run a secure and private execution environment for highly sensitive code. The AVF was developed for other purposes, but this demonstration showed that it could also be used to run other operating systems. 

Close up of the Samsung Galaxy S20

(Image credit: Future / James ide)

What this means for Android users, for now

This demonstration is evidence that Google has the capability to run ChromeOS in Android, but there's no word, or remote hint, even, from Google that it has any plans to merge these two platforms. It also doesn't mean that the average Android device user will be able to swap over to ChromeOS, or that Google is planning to ship a version of its Pixel devices with ChromeOS either. 

In short, don’t read much into this yet, but it’s significant that this can be done, and possibly telling that Google is toying with the idea in some way.

As time has gone on, Google has developed Android and ChromeOS to be more synergistic, notably giving ChromeOS the capability to run Android apps natively. In the past, you may recall Google even attempted to make a hybrid of Android and ChromeOS, with the codename Andromeda. However, work on that was shelved as the two operating systems were already seeing substantial success separately. 

To put these claims to the test, Android Authority created its own ‘ferrochrome’ custom ChromeOS that it was able to run using a virtual machine on a Pixel 7 Pro, confirming that it's possible and providing a video of this feat.

For now, then, we can only wait and see if Google is going to explore this any further. But it’s already interesting to see Android Authority demonstrate this is possible, and that the tools to do this already exist if developers want to attempt it themselves. Virtualization is a popular method to run software originally built for another platform, and many modern phones have the hardware specs to facilitate it. It could also be a pathway for Google to improve the desktop mode for the upcoming Android 15, as apparently, the version seen in beta has some way to go. 

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ChromeOS update lets you control which apps can see your location

ChromeOS is slated to receive some new privacy tools in a future update, and chief among them is the ability to control your Chromebook’s location privacy setting. According to a post on the Google Cloud blog, the feature is an expansion of the privacy controls that the company added last year. They’re referring to the microphone and camera toggles from last April. Google didn’t really provide a whole lot of details in their post, but 9To5Google helped with a recent deep dive.

The site states you can determine which apps and system services on your laptop have “access [to] your geolocation”, giving you almost total anonymity. It’s not perfect. The publication explains that the tool “specifically disables Google Location Services,” however it is still possible for an app or website to have an idea of where you currently are by looking at the IP address. 

ChromeOS new privacy tools

(Image credit: Google)

Geolocation controls do exist on ChromeOS, but are limited to the Chrome browser itself. On-device software is still free to collect your information unless you go into an app and manually disable the respective tool. This update will make the process easier to do. No more micromanaging.

Controls for camera, microphone, and location privacy

Alongside the privacy upgrade, ChromeOS will also introduce more granular camera, microphone, and geolocation controls. For certain apps like Instagram, you can decide how you want it to interact with your hardware. Access to a Chromebook’s microphone can be outright denied, allowed for free interaction, or something in between. For example, Instagram can connect to a webcam, but only when you, the user, are actively using the social network. Otherwise, the connection is blocked.

The Google Cloud blog does mention other features coming down the pipeline, but they pertain more towards enterprise customers; not everyday users. It talks about local data recovery as well as an expansion of Google’s data loss prevention policy.

A company representative told us the geolocation patch will roll out to all Chromebooks within the first half of 2024 – so hopefully before the end of June. 

To find the new tools, you’ll need to first launch the Settings menu, then go to the Security and Privacy tab. They’ll be under the Privacy controls. Or as an alternative, you can go to a specific app in Settings and expand the Permissions tab. The controls can also be found there.

If you're in the market for a new laptop, check out TechRadar's list of the best Chromebook for 2024.

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Leak suggests Android and ChromeOS to receive deeper device integration

Android devices and ChromeOS may become best friends in the near future as Google is reportedly working on better integrating the two platforms.

Hints of this move were discovered by industry expert AssembleDebug on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) who recently dove into the files of Google Play Services version 24.06.12. After activating several internal flags, he discovered two new features are currently in development plus certain sections will be renamed to better fit the changes. As 9To5Google points out, Device Connections will be renamed to Devices & Sharing, and there is a new option called Cross-Device Services.

Tapping the section for the first time allows users to choose the Android phones and Chromebooks they want on their cross-device network. There doesn’t appear to be a limit to how many gadgets you can have connected at the same time. It also looks like you can send out invitations en masse to nearby hardware during this time. Once setting up is done, you’re given access to the aforementioned features. Keep in mind it’s unknown exactly how these tools work although there are short descriptions under each one offering a bit of insight.

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Call Cast lets you presumably hop between devices during calls, however it “only works with certain apps”. Internet Sharing, on the other hand, is more nebulous. Judging from the onscreen text, it’ll give users a way to share their hotspot connection as well as their Wi-Fi password to member devices in a group. It saves you the trouble of having to re-enter your password every time you want to add another phone.

Imminent roll out

That’s pretty much all we can gather from this latest info dump. Given the fact AssembleDebug was able to trigger the update and the near-finished state of the interface, we think it’s safe to say the patch is rolling out fairly soon. It’s unknown exactly when it’ll come out, but Android Police in their coverage predicts it’ll release next month for Google’s March Feature Drop alongside other updates. These include the eSIM transfer tool plus Bluetooth Quick Settings.

As with every leak, take all the details here with a grain of salt. Things could change at any time. That said, if it's released as is, it would be a great upgrade to the current mobile environment. Chromebooks already offer cross-device connectivity to Androids, but it’s limited to primarily app streaming. Improving usability like this could allow Google to finally establish a hardware ecosystem similar to Apple’s own.

While we have you check out TechRadar's roundup of the best Chromebooks for 2024

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