Schools that have been purchasing Chromebooks for students and educators in recent years will soon have an opportunity to refresh their technology with newer models featuring support for Android applications.
At the Bett education technology conference in London this week, Google announced a new generation of Chromebooks designed specifically for the education sector. The laptops will start reaching the market in late spring from several vendors including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, HP and Dell.
Google featured two of the newly announced Chromebooks at the Bett event—an Acer and an Asus model. Both devices support new Android applications as well as stylus and touch capabilities that, according to Google, have been designed for the specific needs of schools.
The styluses on the new Acer Chromebook Spin II and the Asus Chromebook C213 models, for instance, are designed to resemble the typical #2 pencils that students use and come equipped with an eraser for correcting mistakes. The stylus that comes with each device does not need to be paired with a specific Chromebook or charged, which makes them easier to share and to replace if lost, according to Google.
"These Chromebooks use an input prediction model built using Google's machine learning to ensure writing is extremely responsive," Google product manager Naveen Viswanatha wrote on Google’s Keyword blog this week. They also support optical character recognition, making it easy to search for handwritten notes.
The camera on the new Chromebooks has been placed on the keyboard side, so when a Chromebook is flipped, the camera points outward making it possible for users to hold the device like a tablet computer, Viswanatha said. Starting with the freshly announced set of products, all Chromebooks will also come standard with USB-C charging so schools will find it easier charge the devices, he added.
In addition to the hardware and software enhancements, the new Chromebooks will be the first capable of running Android applications. Google has for some time been working on blending the best elements of its Chrome and Android operating systems into one operating system for its mobile devices and other hardware.
Some have even speculated that the company plans to fold Chrome entirely into Android to give developers a single, broad platform to build applications for. Google itself has previously denied such plans, though it has said it is working on blending the best elements of both Android and Chrome into a single OS.
The company also last year announced that it would bring Android applications to Chromebooks so users would be able to do more with these notebooks. Among other things, the company has touted the fact that Android offers more offline options and touch-optimized applications than Chrome does.
Administrators of managed Chrome devices in schools will be able to create a library of approved Android apps and ensure that students only download and use those applications. Among the Android applications that have been optimized for Chromebooks in schools is a new suite from Adobe that includes products like Photoshop Mix, Illustrator Draw, Lightroom Mobile and Creative Cloud Mobile.
Since it first started shipping in June 2011, Chromebooks have steadily grabbed market share from Apple and Microsoft and by some accounts is currently the top selling computer type to schools in the U.S. and elsewhere. Google itself claimed that in 2015 K-12 schools in the U.S. purchased more Chromebooks than all other devices combined.