Google integrates Now with Chrome OS's app launcher

Google last week added its Google Now personal assistant to the app launcher in a preview of Chrome OS, the browser-based operating system that powers Chromebooks.

Included in the March 26 release of Chrome OS's latest Beta build -- one of three "channels" maintained by Google -- was a revamped Chrome Launcher 2.0, the name for the operating system's app launcher, analogous to Windows' Start menu.

The refreshed launcher has changed from a smaller pop-up menu to a larger window centered on the screen, with a prominent Google search field and a curated row of the most frequently-used apps' icons below that.

Also new to the launcher is faster access to Google Now's card-like informational tidbits and notifications, generated by the Mountain View, Calif. company's answer to Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana personal assistants. Those cards have been available on Android and iOS mobile devices since 2012 and mid-2013, respectively, and notifications were added to the Chrome desktop browser and Chrome OS almost a year ago.

Although the change seemed aimed at Chrome OS owners who also have an Android smartphone or tablet -- where Google Now is more widely used -- Google has also pushed the assistant for the other mobile operating system, iOS, as part of its long-standing strategy to assimilate devices by trying to lock people into its wide array of services.

The prominence of Google Now cards in the app launcher indicates a renewed effort to more tightly tie Chromebooks to a user's other devices, an approach Apple has already taken with its Mac-iPhone-iPad "Continuity" feature set, and one Microsoft plans using with Cortana throughout Windows 10.

To test the Beta build of Chrome OS, users must use the Settings panel to change the channel from the standard Stable build.

According to a post written by Ernest Cabrera, a Google Chrome community manager, the Chrome OS preview with Launcher 2.0 will continue rolling out to testers this week.


Gregg Keizer

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