Google answers Apple's 'Continuity' with partial measures

Nearby Android smartphones will log Chromebook users into Google services, apps

Google this week announced a partial answer to Apple's "Continuity" technology that will let Android-powered smartphones interact with Chrome OS, the browser-based operating system that powers inexpensive Chromebook laptops.

During Wednesday's two-and-a-half-hour keynote that kicked off Google I/O, the Mountain View, Calif. company's annual developer conference, Sundar Pichai, the executive who leads Android and Chrome development, demonstrated how mobile devices will connect to laptops in Google's world.

"Users almost always have a phone with them," Pichai said. "Every time you approach your Chromebook and your phone is with you, we will automatically unlock your Chromebook and sign you into your favorite apps and services." The phone will have to be unlocked for this to work.

Other features Pichai demonstrated included incoming phone call notifications, text messages and smartphone low-battery warnings, all which will appear on the Chromebook when the Android phone is nearby. Those interactions are based on Google Now, which Google first planted in preview versions of Chrome OS earlier in 2014.

The phone-notebook links are reminiscent of those Apple showed off June 2 on the opening day of its developers conference, albeit a subset of what Apple trumpeted.

The Cupertino, Calif. company touted an umbrella term, "Continuity," to describe technologies and features it will bake into both iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, the mobile and desktop operating systems set to ship this fall.

Most prominent in Continuity was "Handoff," where iOS 8- and OS X Yosemite-powered devices, using proximity awareness, will be able to hand off in-progress tasks, like a half-finished document or email, from one to the other. Other features included receipt of text messages on Macs, taking phone calls from the Mac, and an instant ad hoc Wi-Fi hotspot triggered when an iPhone is near a connection-less Mac.

Google did not discuss or disclose a Handoff-like process for Android smartphones or tablets on one hand, and Chromebooks on the other, but Pichai's description was lacking in detail and a move in that direction, even if his explanation was only a first step, would be reasonable. A Handoff for Google Docs, in particular, or for other primary Google services, like Gmail, would be a benefit for customers.

The other features, particularly text messages and phone calls originating on the smartphone, were more similar to Apple's Continuity, but lacked the latter's ability to accept a call on a Mac that rang on a nearby iPhone.

Google said that the changes would reach Android and Chrome OS later this year.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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