Google may be opening a new front on the war against the password with a smartphone-enabled unlock option for Chrome OS PCs. Dubbed Easy Unlock, the new test feature would “instantly unlock your Chromebook when you and your phone are nearby, no password necessary.”
Easy Unlock is currently available in the dev channel of Chrome OS, but it isn’t fully baked yet so it’s not possible to try it out, according to Android Police, which first spotted the new feature.
Nevertheless, Chrome OS dev users can enable Easy Unlock under “chrome://flags/#enable-easy-unlock.” Right now, all you get to see is some introductory material on how to enable the feature, but not the actual feature itself.
This is the second time we’ve seen news of a password-less autentication option for Chrome OS. In December, developer and Chromium Evangelist François Beaufort revealed the Chromium OS team was working on a “password-free screen unlock” for Chrome OS. Similar to the Chromium-Chrome ecosystem, Chromium OS is a Google-run open source project on which Chrome OS is based.
Keys to your kingdom
The big unknown for Easy Unlock is what kind of technology the feature might use to accomplish its mission. Likely candidates are Bluetooth pairing, an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection, or near-field communication (NFC).
While Bluetooth seems like the obvious answer (and is already used for authentication in some enterprise notebooks), NFC also seems like a choice candidate for Easy Unlock, since it was designed for these kinds of uses. Serious PC hobbyists who aren’t afraid of a soldering iron are already playing around with homebrew NFC-based PC unlocks.
NFC is also one of Google’s favorite experimental toys. The search giant uses NFC to power Google Wallet terminal transactions. The company has also experimented with NFC via Google Places business decals, and in early 2013 the company tried out password-free NFC authentication that relied on a third-party device.
During its tenure as a Google-owned company, Motorola also introduced the Motorola Skip, a small wearable NFC device that lets you unlock your phone with one tap.
The only problem right now is that Chrome OS has yet to support NFC, although the Chromium development team did start working on the feature nearly a year ago.