Reports are now beginning to crop up that Google plans to deliver the on-device variant of Assistant to Chromebooks. The typically-cloud-based AI helper was first announced at Google's 2019 I/O Developers Conference. And it first appeared on the company's own Pixel handsets. Now, it could arrive as early as Chrome version 88.
That's based on the appearance of a new flag setting found in the Chromium Gerrit. Specifically, that's in Chrome Canary, presently on version 85. The flag, as of this writing, doesn't actually do anything. But a commit associated with the feature appears to point to the above-mentioned version of Chrome OS.
Evidence also suggests that tablet-format Chromebooks are the driving factor here. Initial submissions point to the feature arriving on devices such as the Lenovo Chromebook Duet first. And it will be activated by default on those devices when it lands.
That should mean that on-device Google Assistant for Chromebooks appears not just on tablet devices. But that it will also appear on others by default when they're placed in tablet mode. Or it may be the case that Google is simply choosing to start with the more hub-like end of the platform. In that case, it should appear everywhere, turned on by default, at some point.
What is the on-device Assistant and how will it benefit Chromebooks?
For the time, being Chromebooks will still be stuck using Google Assistant in its current form. That's the cloud-based version of the AI helper. Now, that may seem to suggest that on-device Assistant doesn't need a connection but it does. That's not the advantage here.
Instead, where on-device Assistant excels is on storage space and speed. To begin with, Google has essentially taken a tool that usually weighs in excess of 100GB. That's been whittled down to under half of just 1GB. Because it doesn't need to access the cloud for processing, it's also a lot quicker on the responses.
Google claims, in fact, that it's as much as 10-times faster. That's in terms of both understanding requests and interactions as well as processing them. And that's compared to the current version of Google Assistant that's found on Chromebooks.
So users can get the help their looking for or interact with their Chromebooks via Google Assistant much more quickly — if not necessarily any more easily.
When is the new Assistant coming?
As noted above, the current experimental flag setting for the new on-device Google Assitant for Chromebooks isn't currently working. That suggests that testing has not begun in earnest, even if preparations for the feature are being made.
The feature is also marked as being intended for version 88 of Chrome OS. And that likely presents a bigger issue, even if developers have commented to say the chosen number was arbitrary rather than binding. Chrome version 88 isn't currently on the radar in terms of the release schedule Google has publicly posted.
The present variant of the browser and OS is 83. Chrome and Chrome OS 84 aren't slated for release until mid- and late-July, respectively. Version 85 and 86, by comparison, aren't scheduled to launch until late-August and early-October. Although the reference to Chrome 88 is arbitrary, the feature freeze for version 85 has already passed in the interim.
All of that paints a picture that indicates it will probably take a few months, at the very least, before the on-device version of Google Assistant is ready for Chromebooks.