Google is improving Windows and Android integration

Google wants to do for Android and Chrome users what Apple does for people in its ecosystem. A batch of news is announced today at CES 2022 designed to help those using non-Apple devices easily set up, connect, and share across platforms. This includes expanding existing Fast Pair and Chromecast capabilities to more products, as well as improving data sharing between Android phones and laptops. In fact, Google said that “for the first time with Android, we’re also focusing on building for other platforms, like Windows.”

First, quick pairing. Google is working with Acer, HP, and Intel to bring Fast Pair to Windows PCs so you can quickly connect your Android phone to your laptop. You can then set up Bluetooth accessories, sync your text messages, and easily share files via Nearby Sharing. This feature will arrive on select Windows PCs later this year.

Meanwhile, Google also offers Fast Pair for non-wearable devices, cars, and Bluetooth audio accessories, to include things like TVs and smart devices. It already works with Pixel Buds and some Fitbit watches, allowing for easy setup on those devices. In a few weeks, your Chromebook can automatically detect your quick pairing headphones when you turn them on, letting you connect to them with a single click. The new Chromebooks arriving later this year will be easier to set up, too. You can connect your Android phone and ports via saved data like Google account and Wi-Fi password.

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The company said it will let you connect headphones to a Google TV or Android TV in the coming months, and that Fast Pair will also work with new Matter-enabled smart home devices. This should make adding connected devices to your home network easier than before. It doesn’t seem as simple as setting up Apple’s HomePod where you can just hold your iPhone near the speaker to begin the installation process, but we’ll have to wait to see Google’s solution in action to be sure.

After all your gadgets are set up and synced with each other, Google also wants you to enable convenient connections like AirPlay or Apple’s AirDrop. It offers Cast support for more brands, from all of Bose’s speakers and smart speakers, so you can stream music and audio from your Android phone to compatible speakers.

The company is also “building technology for Bluetooth headphones” that will allow them to automatically switch audio output depending on the device you’re using. Let’s say you’re wearing earphones while watching a show on your Android tablet and a call comes in on your phone. The system will pause the movie and the headphones will switch to your phone, then back straight to your tablet when your conversation is over. This will work for all audio playing through your devices at the system level, not just on a supported app basis. For Apple users, this is similar to how AirPods automatically switch between iPads, iPhones, and Macs.

An animation showing how the voice switching between your Android tablet and phone works when a call comes in at the latter.

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Google says compatible headphones will also get spatial audio support so you can hear directional audio based on your head movements for more immersive experiences. These features are coming in the next few months.

Later this year, the Phone Hub on Chromebooks is also getting new features to make it even more useful. For example, you won’t have to install separate apps like Signal or WhatsApp on your laptop to send messages to your friends through your phone anymore. Messages from the chat apps on your Chromebook will appear and you can reply to them from there. Google is also adding a Camera Roll to the Phone Hub so you can view media without opening

Locking and unlocking devices and vehicles just got easier too. Just like with the Apple Watch (and some Samsung devices), in the coming months you’ll be able to use a paired Wear OS 3 watch to keep your Chromebooks and Android devices unlocked when they’re near you.

An animation showing a phone and a Chromebook.  When a message appears on the phone, a small window pops up at the bottom right of your Chromebook.

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Cars are also getting an Android update. Compatible Samsung or Pixel phones will now be able to lock, unlock, and start supported BMW vehicles. Also later this year, phones with ultra-wideband support can unlock car doors without leaving your pocket or purse. Google is also adding support for key-sharing, in line with the Connected Car Consortium interoperable standard, so you can share remote access to your car right from your phone. The company said it is “working to bring digital car keys to more Android phones and vehicles later this year.”

Finally, you’ll also be able to tell Google Assistant to warm up and cool down, lock and unlock your car, and ask it how much battery is left in your EV. This is coming first for Volvo Cars in the coming months, and “more will follow,” according to Google.

Everything that Google announced today aligns with the vision of ambient computing that the company has been talking about for years. “This is kind of a foundational element for us to achieve the vision of ambient computing,” Eric Kay, vice president of multi-device experiences, told Engadget. It seems that when these updates are rolled out, non-Apple users may have less reason to envy the seamless ecosystem that iPhone or Mac users enjoy.

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