Chrome Getting Native Gamepad, Webcam, And WebRTC Support In Early 2012

It’s not always easy to tell when Chrome has been updated, and at any rate the changes aren’t always significant enough to even wonder about it. But a pair of features worth caring about are user-bound come early 2012, according to Google developer advocate Paul Kinlan, who spoke recently at the Develop conference in Liverpool.

The conference is focused on game development, so it’s no surprise that the features are also game-centric. First, there will be plug-and-play gamepad, webcam, and microphone support in Chrome, and second, the nascent real time communication protocol WebRTC will begin to be implemented as well. This opens the door for seamless video chat and conceivably OnLive-like gaming services.

It’s not as if there are already tons of games and applications waiting to take advantage of gamepads and WebRTC. And while it would extend the capabilities of Chromebooks, for instance, so it would extend the capabilities of any netbook or desktop running Chrome. Still, making the browser platform natively support peripherals is an important step towards making it less of an application layer and more of a primary OS layer.

Replacing the driver layer always introduces all sorts of complications, so it’s no surprise that this hasn’t been properly implemented yet. A passthrough from the OS drivers and device managers has been the standard, and this may take a while to supplant. But if it works, it works, and no one will care whether it’s Microsoft, Apple, Logitech, Adobe, Google, or Halliburton making their webcam work. All they want to do is video chat with their kids.

Kinlan also said that an OnLive-type streaming video/game service is in the works at Google, which should come as no surprise. Google + integration is almost a certainty as well: “Blank is playing Modern Warfare 3! Click here to watch. Click here to rent.” Naturally the hardest part of this service would be the licensing agreements, in which OnLive and others have a long head start. Servers Google has. It’s content they need.

“First quarter” is as specific as Kinlan got, and it’s fairly early to make those determinations anyway, so no doubt we’ll be hearing more when we are nearer the release date.