The Google Pixel team is working on an Android tablet for 2023

Google is back in the tablet game. Rick Osterloh, Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, announced Wednesday at the I/O Developers Conference that the company’s internal hardware division plans to release an Android tablet in 2023. Osterloh was light on the details, except to say it will run on the same Tensor processor inside Google’s latest Pixel phones and that he envisions it as a consumer-centric tool that focuses on entertainment and consumption rather than work. (the edgeDan Seifert, who saw a photo briefly during a product briefing before I/O, immediately said “It looks like an old Samsung tablet.”) But Osterloh’s general message is clear: Google cares about Android tablets. real this time.

This announcement is a major change in Google’s recent history. In 2019, Osterloh himself said that Google was exiting the tablet business. “Hi, that’s right,” Tweeted In response to rumors that Google was shutting down its existing tablet products, “Google’s HARDWARE team will only focus on building laptops going forward,” though he again said that software teams still care about tablet support. This announcement seemed to chill the market, as if to suggest that Google would never be serious about tablets. Since then, a few companies outside of Samsung have continued to make Android listings.

So why did you change your heart? “We consider that an important part of how people interact with media and computers at home, in particular,” Osterloh said in an interview before I/O. Google seems to think of Chrome OS mostly as a tool for work and school, while Android is the consumer product. (Osterloh has already said that Google plans to produce more Pixelbooks, by the way, but he didn’t say when.) The pandemic has made it clear to Google more than ever that tablets have a unique place in users’ lives as entertainment, games, and general consumer devices. (You’d think a decade of Apple’s success on the iPad would have already demonstrated that, but unfortunately.) “And certainly, we think we want to design something that’s a perfect Pixel companion with a greater form factor,” he said.

One way to understand the Pixel group in general is not to be a product organization designed to sell a lot of devices and more to be a model of Google’s intentions. Not only does Google make a groundbreaking tablet, they hope that more people will buy it; It’s designing a groundbreaking tablet so that Android developers inside and outside of Google will believe that Google really cares about these devices and will have reason to care about how their apps appear on a larger screen. Google can’t build a great tablet if you can’t start the flywheel. Solving the tablet issue will take more than great hardware and even more dedicated focus from the entire team at Google. It takes the entire ecosystem to decide it’s worth paying attention to when Google gives them a decade of reason not to.

Fortunately, Google knows this better than anyone. In the early days of Android, when Google’s internal hardware projects were called the Nexus instead of the Pixel, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 were some of the best tablets on the market. But Android tablets never went viral, in large part because Android wasn’t a perfect fit for tablets and Google never seemed to care. The apps mostly dealt with tablets as “giant screen phones” rather than a device category per se, so they came across as bulky and awkward and generally didn’t work properly.

Google’s tablet will fit into the wider Pixel family that runs Tensor.
Image: google

Internally, at least, this appears to be changing. “The Android team has invested a ton in space,” Osterloh said. Starting with Android 12L and continuing with some of the new features in Android 13, such as an updated taskbar with an app drawer that makes it easier to use two apps side by side, the operating system is finally starting to appear optimized for larger screens. A Pixel tablet (or whatever it’s called) would be a showcase for this business. “We wanted to make sure that people knew about this so they know that it is not only a big thing for the Android team, but it is important for our team as well. It is our intention to be in that category, starting from that time and moving forward forever.”

Trystan Upstill, vice president of engineering for the Android team, said his team is also working with third-party developers to adapt their apps to larger displays. “We have TikTok, Zoom, and Facebook designing new apps this year for tablets, and many others coming as well,” he said in an interview. Google is also updating 20 of its apps — Google Maps, Google Messages, YouTube Music, and more — for tablets over the next few weeks. This is a strong sign of progress, but the fact that these updates are only coming now says a lot about Google’s history in the space.

Android 13 makes it easier to multitask on larger screens.
Image: google

Google’s focus on tablets may also have something to do with the state of smartphones. As foldable phones are becoming more and more popular, it has also become one of the most compelling reasons to choose an Android device over an iPhone. Except that more often than not, Android doesn’t perform well on large foldable screens either. “The difference, of course, is that they have two screens,” Abstill said. “The layout changes make a big difference. But what we do for tablets is translate directly into improvements for foldable devices as well.”

And if you are rooting Android tablets to be cool, you have to root for the foldable devices to be successful. Since it’s not hard to imagine a world in which Google is really trying to make Android tablets work again only to discover that Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface are so advanced that it would be impossible to catch up and decide to move to something newer and slicker. Foldable devices could keep Google focused on the big screens for much longer, if indeed they are the next big thing in smartphones.

It seems Osterloh is serious about bringing the luminosity of the Pixel to the world of Android tablets. But if Google is going to launch a hit next year, it’s going to need help. And quickly.

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