Google answers Apple's 'Continuity' with partial measures

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

Google this week offered a partial answer to Apple's Continuity technology, announcing system 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.-based company's annual developers 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 the ability for a Chromebook to display incoming call notifications, text messages and smartphone low-battery warnings when the user's Android phone is nearby. Those interactions are based on Google Now, which Google first planted in preview versions of Chrome OS earlier this year.

The phone-laptop links are reminiscent of those Apple showed off June 2 on the opening day of its Worldwide Developers Conference -- though those were just a subset of the new offerings that Apple trumpeted that day.

At WWDC, Apple used the 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.

The most prominent component in the Continuity lineup was Handoff, which will enable iOS 8- and OS X Yosemite-powered devices, using proximity awareness, to hand off in-progress tasks, like half-finished documents or emails, from one to the other. Other Continuity features make it possible to receive text messages and take phone calls on Macs, and enable instant activation of an ad hoc Wi-Fi hotspot when an iPhone is near a connection-less Mac.

Google did not discuss or disclose a Handoff-like process between Android smartphones or tablets and Chromebooks, but Pichai's description, while lacking in detail, suggested that the company is moving in that direction. A Handoff-like system for Google Docs, in particular, or for other primary Google services, like Gmail, would benefit users.

The other features, particularly the text messages and incoming call notifications appearing on a Chromebook, were more similar to Apple's Continuity, but lacked the latter's ability to accept a call on a laptop that rang on a nearby phone.

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, and on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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