Chrome OS updated with on-screen keyboard – is a Chrome OS tablet coming?

by: Bogdan PetrovanApril 9, 2014


Amid speculation of an incoming Chrome OS tablet, Google updated today its cloud-based operating system with an on-screen keyboard and several other features.

The stable channel of Chrome OS was updated to version 34.0.1847.118, which brings bug fixes, performance improvements, and a few interesting new features. Among the highlights of the update, Google’s Chrome team mentions:

  • The ability to dock windows or panels to the sides of the screen;
  • Offline Google Drive backup will be enabled automatically for all users after first login;
  • The addition of an on-screen keyboard;
  • Sticky keys, which allows users to perform keyboard shortcuts by pressing one key at the time, instead of simultaneously.

The addition of the on-screen keyboard has been long in coming, with the first clues of the feature being spotted in development channels more than a year ago. So, while its arrival is no surprise, it seems a bit odd that Google would bother to add an on-screen keyboard in Chrome OS for use with a touchpad or a mouse. More likely, Google is prepping Chrome OS for the arrival of touch-enabled Chromebooks or, possibly, of a Chrome OS-powered tablet.

“A touch more connected.”

That leads us to a report from ZDNet that mentions an Acer event scheduled for late April that could see the introduction of the first ever Chrome OS tablet. The argument is the tagline of the event invitation, which reads “A touch more connected.”

Is Acer teasing a Chrome OS tablet? It’s hard to tell for sure, but ZDNet’s reasoning makes sense. One of the biggest Chromebook makers, Acer is one of the two OEMs that Google chose to launch the concept back in 2011, along with Samsung. While not very successful in the tablet business, Acer has the expertise to create a competitive Chrome OS tablet, and, because its Android tablets are lagging, the incentive to try new things.

But then again, Acer could simply be referring to a touchscreen-equipped Chromebook or something unrelated.

One thing is sure for now – Google is building up Chrome OS for touch devices, and it’s only a matter of time before the first such device hits the market. Several other touch-oriented features spotted in the Chrome OS source support this theory.

Whether this class of devices will be successful or not is an entirely different discussion. The biggest question is – why would you pick a Chrome tablet over an Android one?

  • Jayfeather787

    I don’t really care for a touchscreen chrome OS. A chrome OS tablet might as well run Android because Chrome OS is more for computers and laptops than tablets and phones. Also Google, I want a laptop, not some dinky little touchscreen tablet with a tablet OS and a keyboard. Google! Give us the option to go into the BIOS/UEFI on the chromebooks and allow us to install other operating systems. Linux Mint/Ubuntu/Zorin/Puppy Linux/Fedora/OpenSuse/Suse/Arch/every other awesome linux distro FTW!

    • MasterMuffin

      Debian >:|

      • Jayfeather787

        That too.

    • Andrew J.

      You can always go dual boot with chrubuntu or crouton since Chrome OS is based off of some Linux architecture (:

  • Tjaldid

    just support android apps make it availible to everyone and conquer the PC Market

  • NCI

    Really? A new onscreen keyboard makes you think of a chrome os tablet… Havent you considered that maybe this is another sign that Android and Chrome are merging???

    • When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras. Android and Chrome may be merging, but the immediate and more likely possibility is simply that they are putting out a Chrome OS tablet or at least a Chrome OS touch laptop.

  • Adriann

    Chromebook with the form factor of the Asus Transformer line or T100.

    Detachable keyboard that has a battery that will extend battery life when docked.

    Please make it happen.

  • Jeff Kang

    If the on-screen keyboard is for a Chrome OS tablet, then that makes sense. If the virtual keyboard is for a touchscreen notebook, it could get uncomfortable if the touchscreen is used while it’s vertical:

    *Windows 8 touchscreen pain*

    > Indeed, Apple’s Steve Jobs – not usually one to dismiss a pretty gadget on the grounds of uselessness – once said he’d never launch a touchscreen laptop because of what he called “gorilla arm”.

    > “We’ve done tons of user testing on this,” he said back in 2010, “and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time you start to fatigue, and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off.”

    > It is possible, of course, to position a laptop so that the screen is reachable without lifting the elbows from the desk; but this means bringing it much closer than most people find comfortable visually.

    > Microsoft’s online advice on using a PC safely doesn’t mention touchscreens at all – and, ironically, instructs users to avoid just those movements that a touchscreen notebook demands.


    > “Although we reached out to Microsoft for this story, the company did not respond to our request to comment.

    > In order to touch the display on a notebook with that capability, users either have to fully extend their arm (bad and uncomfortable), lean forward (bad and awkward) or move the display closer (bad for your vision).”


    *Eye tracking + Chromebook: for dealing with a touch UI on a vertical touchscreen*

    In order to interact with a vertical touchscreen for longer periods of time, I think that you would need something like an eye tracker built into the tablet or notebook.

    Look at any interface widget to highlight it, and then touch a “select-what-I’m-looking-at” button on the keyboard to activate and select it. It can basically turn a non-touch screen into a touchscreen.

    Look, touch an easy-to-reach “tap where I’m looking” button, look, and then
    touch the same button again. You don’t have to keep changing your hand
    and finger positions between each tap.

    Google has an eye tracking patent that demonstrates a method to unlock a device by having a sensor in the head-mounted accessory track the patterns of the pupil.

    Apple and Nokia also have eye tracking patents, Apple has an eye tracking patent that deals with something called Troxler fading, and Nokia has a patent for a future head-mounted device, so the larger companies are getting ready for the technology.

    4 eye tracking companies are trying to negotiate for hardware integration of their eye trackers. An external eye tracker device can cost $99, but if manufacturers of smartphone, tablet, notebook, and laptop modify the existing built-in camera in these devices, and add an upgraded sensor, it’s supposed to only add $5 to the manufacturing cost.

    I think Google should consider getting eye trackers built into Chromebooks and Pixels. Microsoft should also do the same for their Surface.

  • Jean-Francois Gagnon

    That would be nice for a Transformer Prime/infinity with keyboard dock

  • I have an HP envy laptop which has a touchscreen and I find myself using it for certain things, it’s faster than the touchpad if you were doing something like moving an icon on the desktop into a folder, it feels natural and faster to take my hand off the touchpad and touch the screen. I like scrolling by touching the screen, even though it’s vertical. A chrome tablet that docked with a keyboard would be awesome.

  • Greg

    Let’s think about this…an on screen keyboard & stickly keys…. Sounds like Google just added some important accessibility features! A Chrome OS tablet I think not. There are still too many sites that aren’t touch optimized. The web isn’t ready to have touch as your only interface.