For most of Chrome OS history, there were only a few form factors to choose from when buying a new device. You could buy a traditional laptop, a convertible/hybrid laptop, or a Chromebox. With the introduction of the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 and HP Chromebook X2, there were suddenly two new form factors to consider: tablets and detachables. As Google’s own Pixel Slate detachable Chromebook gets closer to its launch date, the Chrome OS team is hard at work optimizing the operating system for the new form factors. We’ve already seen a bunch of tablet-centric improvements roll out in Chrome OS 70, but one feature that was missing was Android keyboard support. Now, it seems that support for Gboard and other Android keyboard apps is imminent.
My HP Chromebook X2 on the Chrome OS 72 Canary Channel recently received an update with Android Pie support. That is, the Android runtime is now based on the latest Android 9 Pie code, skipping over Android 8.0 and Android 8.1 Oreo entirely. The Google Pixelbook was the first Chromebook to get Android Pie support, but it now looks like other Chromebooks are getting the updated ARC++ subsystem. One of the features we’ve waited on is support for Android keyboard apps, because the default Chrome OS keyboard app isn’t nearly as feature-rich as Gboard.
After I updated to the latest nightly, I noticed that there was a new “Keyboard apps” section in the Input Method settings. Now, I’ve had several ARC IME-related flags enabled in anticipation of this new feature, but this is the first time I’m seeing it in a live build. Unfortunately, both keyboard options that were listed could not be enabled through this menu. I had to enter the shell of the Android subsystem on my Chromebook X2 and enter a command to enable the IME, which is how I got “Gboard” to show up in the main settings menu and as an option in the keyboard setup. Still, I was unable to actually set Gboard as my default keyboard app even after updating to version 184.108.40.206405912-beta-x86_64 of the app.
Once support for Android keyboard apps officially begins rolling out for Chromebooks, we’ll let you all know. It’s really close, though, so expect to see it working very soon.
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