Latest software update hints at Chrome OS tablets being “what’s next” for Google

Google added a number of new software features in the developer build of Chrome OS this week, with at least one indicating the company could be looking at new form factors for the Chrome OS platform. Google(s goog) had to pull the release due to an unrelated bug, but in the release notes, it said Chrome OS now supports screen rotation. That’s a feature typically reserved for devices that are used in both portrait and landscape, such as tablets.

Chromebook PixelSince Google pulled the release, I haven’t been able to install the software on my Chromebook Pixel for testing but I will as soon as I can to verify the function. Still, the wording seems pretty clear: the notes say you can “rotate the screen on all Chromebooks” with this software update.

I can’t really think of a reason I’d want to rotate the screen on my Pixel — or any of the other Chromebooks currently available — so I’m thinking either a Chrome OS tablet or a Chromebook with rotating touchscreen is the works. Perhaps we’ll hear more at Google I/O next month?

Although this might be a stretch on my part, I see another sign of new form factors or Chrome OS tablets. The updated Chrome OS build adds a “New Immersive browsing mode – browse the web with only 4px of Chrome.” While this will be handy on any Chromebook, it can help maximize the screen space of a smaller tablet. However, I may be reading into that function too much.

Still, I could see Google pushing the envelope when it comes to Chrome OS hardware. Heck, it just did that with the Chromebook Pixel, bringing a premium Chrome OS experience at a premium price. How could Google continue down this path? A Chrome OS tablet with docking keyboard, similar to Microsoft’s Surface(s msft) hardware would be my best guess.

Microsoft Surface RTThat design would bring the desktop browser experience to a more mobile device while still allowing users to work on a laptop-like computer with a dock or keyboard attachment. The touchscreen feature originally pioneered on the Pixel would come in handy for such a device although Chrome OS would need an on-screen keyboard. Guess what? A peek at the Chromium source code from two weeks ago shows that Google is working on just that: A software-based touch keyboard for Chrome OS.

Interestingly, past Chrome tablet rumors have turned out be to that: Simply rumors. In fact, Google’s vice president of engineering Linus Upson told TechRadar in May of 2012 “We are not working on a Chrome OS tablet.” But that was then and this is now. We’ve already seen a major shakeup at Google when Sundar Pichai, SVP of Google Chrome and Apps, took over Android from Andy Rubin last month. Perhaps this is all related to a new direction for Chrome OS?

It’s worth noting also in the new Chrome OS software are the improvements to the Files app that we discussed on our GigaOM Chrome Show podcast this morning. Users of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes can expect to see file options for recently viewed files, shared files and files that are marked for offline use.