Google will spend 2022 trying to match Apple’s ecosystem integrations
Google is announcing no fewer than 13 different new software features at CES 2022, ranging from AirPods-like fast switching to promised software that will mirror your Android text apps on a Chromebook. It’s part of an initiative that Google calls “Better Together” but that the rest of the industry is more likely to refer to as “catching up to Apple’s ecosystem.”
The biggest updates come to Google’s “Fast Pair” framework, an Android UI designed to make pairing Bluetooth headphones easier. This year, Google will extend it to support auto-switching between devices, faster pairing to Android TV and Google TV, and more. It will also adopt the Fast Pair framework for installing new smart home devices using the upcoming Matter standard, which should mean that getting a new smart lightbulb or door lock going will be a lot easier.
Google will also enable smartwatches running Wear OS 3 to unlock paired Android phones or Chromebooks, much in the same way an Apple Watch can unlock an iPhone. That feature will arrive “in the coming months,” and hopefully, there will be more Wear OS 3 watches available when it launches. Right now, the only major smartwatch running the new OS is Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4.
All of the features Google is announcing today are planned to arrive later this year, in timespans ranging from “in the coming weeks” to “in the coming months” to “later this year.” They will hit Android phones via software updates (that may not require full OS updates), Chromebooks, Android TV, Bluetooth headphones, and even some Windows laptops from Acer and HP.
That last detail may turn out to be one of the more important announcements from Google: HP, Acer, and Intel are partnering with Google to support some of its Better Together features on their laptops. Users will be able to use Fast Pair, sync text messages, and use Android’s Nearby Share feature to share files to their upcoming Windows PCs. Alongside Google’s announced plans to bring Google Play games to Windows, it’s another sign that the company won’t cede Android integrations on Windows entirely to Microsoft’s software and partnerships.
The Windows integrations are notable, but there are, of course, more planned features for Chromebooks beyond Fast Pair. Google says it will create a system so that any messaging app on your phone can be mirrored on a Chromebook, allowing users to directly use their messaging apps. It will also add a feature called “Camera Roll on Phone Hub” that will make it easier to move photos from your phone to your Chromebook.
Chromebooks will also be getting a new setup flow if you have an Android phone — pair them during setup, and some settings and account information will be transferred over automatically. They’ll also be unlockable via Wear OS watches.
Finally, there are a few smaller announcements. On the audio side, Bose speakers and soundbars will begin supporting Chromecast in the coming weeks, and spatial audio with head tracking is coming for Android.
Google is also still working on adding support for unlocking cars via UWB (currently available on Samsung phones and the Pixel 6 Pro), and as always with these car locking announcements, the first partner will be BMW. Volvo, which uses Android Auto as its native system for running the dashboard computer, will integrate with the Google Assistant so you can use your smart speaker for functions like remote start.
Stepping back and looking at the features as a whole, it’s difficult not to draw nearly one-to-one parallels to Apple ecosystem features. Headphones are extending Bluetooth to support auto-switching and head-tracking spatial audio, just like AirPods. iPhone users with Mac have long had their default texting experience fully synced. Nearby Share is very similar to AirDrop. Unlocking with a smartwatch is also a big Apple ecosystem benefit.
Normally at CES, Google has emphasized the power of the Google Assistant. This year, it’s hoping to get you to believe that Android can work better with your other devices. The challenge for Google is to actually get lots of different devices and manufacturers to support all of these features. That will be no easy task — and it’s likely one of the main reasons there are no firm dates or even specific hardware products attached to any of these announcements.