[Update: Default in Canary] Chrome OS is Adding Support for a Floating Keyboard

Update: 3/9/18: According to François Beaufort, a Chromium Evangelist at Google, the virtual floating keyboard is now enabled by default in Chrome Canary channel.

Android has been a massively popular smartphone operating system, however, it has failed to do well with tablets. There was a time when Google devoted a lot of effort to ensure that Android was a great tablet operating system to the extent that Android 3.0 Honeycomb was developed purely for tablets. However, over the years the Android tablet ecosystem failed to mature and smartphones with larger and larger displays started to encroach the tablet space. Eventually, Google stopped caring about Android on tablets, to the point where Android tablets are now almost dead. Instead, Google now aims for Chrome OS to pick up the burden once shouldered by Android.

For Chrome OS to replace Android on tablets, the OS needs to be fully touchscreen-friendly. Google has made great strides here with the addition of a virtual keyboard and other features in order to make it easy to use Chrome OS purely by touch. Many Chromebooks now have touchscreens, and on October 4, Google announced the Pixelbook, a convertible laptop. The Pixelbook is an expensive device with a starting price tag of $1000, but it serves as a proof-of-concept for future Chromebook convertibles, which will be priced lower. With ChromeOS now supporting Android apps, the platform is in a good place when it comes to a touch UI.

However, there are still more improvements that can be made, and one of them is the floating keyboard. A floating keyboard simply means a keyboard which can be used on any location on the screen instead of it being fixed to the bottom half of the screen. For convertible devices, a floating keyboard provides more convenience when typing using the onscreen keyboard. Now, according to a new commit in the Chromium Gerrit, we have learned that Chrome OS is adding a floating virtual keyboard.

The commit mentions implementing the basics of a floating keyboard. It’s important to note that just because the commit has been merged, the change won’t show up in Chrome OS builds right away. As the commit mentions, the feature is not accessible currently but it will be eventually via the #enable-floating-virtual-keyboard-flag experimental Chrome flag.

Update: Default in Canary

The idea behind the floating keyboard is to make it easier for thumb typing. The keyboard appears like you’d expect when you tap into a text box and it can be dragged anywhere on the screen. To try it out, switch to Dev Channel, enable the experimental flag chrome://flags/#enable-floating-virtual-keyboard, trigger the virtual keyboard, hit the three-dot menu, and pick “Floating mode” instead of “Docking mode”.

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