What makes a Chromebook a good business machine? They're lightweight, affordable and easy to use. And now they're even better for business, thanks to a slew of updates coming to Chromebooks this year. Google announced a variety of updates for Chrome OS, including new ways for your Chromebook to interact with your Android Phone, security buffs and better integration with Google Now, a personal digital assistant app.
Chromebooks aren't for everyone. They run on Chrome OS, a unique operating system that's based on Google's Chrome Web browser. Chrome OS can't run Windows or Mac OS X software; instead, it focuses on Web applications. Even the best Chromebook won't cut it if you rely on a specific Windows or Mac program to do your job, but the machines are good for basic computing tasks like editing documents, browsing the Internet and managing your email inbox. If you're considering a Chromebook as your next business PC, read on for five updates to look forward to in 2014.
If you use your Chromebook for business, keeping it locked with a password is a no-brainer. But having to type in a password every time you want to use your device can be a hassle. Now you can wirelessly connect your Android smartphone to your Chromebook to make the process quick and easy.
Here's how it works. First, you'll set up the Easy Unlock feature by having your Chromebook search for nearby Android phones. Once your devices are connected, your Chromebook will search for your smartphone whenever you turn it on, and automatically boot to your home screen if your phone is detected. You can even configure it to automatically sign into your favorite applications upon startup. If a user tries to use your Chromebook without your smartphone around, they'll be confronted with a lock screen and a password prompt, ensuring that your personal accounts — and any sensitive business information stored in them — remains secure.
Calls and messaging
Your smartphone is an essential business tool, since it keeps you connected to your employees, co-workers and colleagues. But it's easy to miss an alert on your smartphone when you're busy working on your laptop computer. Now a new Chromebook lets calls and messaging alerts appear right on your Chromebook desktop, ensuring you'll never miss a notification.
When a text message arrives, you'll see it appear in a pop-up window. And instead of reaching for your smartphone, you'll have the option to type out a response right on your Chromebook. When you leave the office, you can pick up your text message conversations on your Android smartphone right where you left off. Phone call alerts will also appear on your Chromebook home screen, complete with caller ID, so you know who's calling. It's not known, however, if you'll be able to answer phone calls from your Chromebook, similar to how you can answer iPhone calls on a Mac running Apple's OS X Yosemite update.
Business users who depend on their smartphone can't afford to have a dead device. But when you're hard at work, it's easy to forget to plug in your phone for a recharge. Now your Chromebook can notify you when your smartphone is low on juice, in the form of a pop-up notification right on your desktop. You'll get an alert whenever your battery is running low, even if your smartphone is across the room or in your bag. You'll also have the ability to customize your battery alerts so you're notified only when you want to be.
Better offline support
Chromebooks can run two different kinds of applications: Web apps, which run in the Chrome Web browser and only work when you're connected to an active Internet connection; and Chrome apps, which are stored on your hard drive and can usually be used even when you're offline. But not all Chrome apps work without a Web connection, and that's bad news for business users who want to take full advantage of Chrome apps on the go.
That's why Google is taking steps toward better offline support. The company announced that all Chrome apps must have offline support by the end of the year. That should encourage developers to release fresh Chrome apps, which are better than Web apps because they are more secure, run in their own windows, launch directly from your desktop and usually offer a deeper set of features. Examples of good Chrome apps for business users include Gmail offline for inbox management; Google Keep, a note-taking app; Any.do, a reminders app; and Google Docs, for creating and editing documents.
Another new feature coming to Chromebooks is the ability to run Android apps right on your desktop. That means you'll be able to launch Android apps right on your Chromebook and run them in their own windows, the same way Chrome apps work.
Last month Google showed how the Android version of Evernote works on a Chromebook. Evernote is a powerful note-taking app that lets you dictate or manually enter notes, combined with photos, to-do lists and more. The app can run in Chrome OS, even when you're offline. When you reconnect to the Web, new or edited notes will be synced across your other devices. Google didn't say which Android apps will be supported on Chromebooks, or give an exact release date, but the feature is expected to launch later this year. When it does launch, it will greatly expand the breadth of offline applications available on Chromebooks, bringing them closer to Macs and Windows PCs in terms of software support.