The Pixel Tablet needs a radical new vision for Android to succeed

Opinion: The Pixel tablet is probably a great piece of hardware, but it’s the Android improvements that should support Google’s belated battle against the iPad.

Google will take its time to get back to tablets. The Pixel Tablet won’t arrive until 2023, giving the company plenty of time to highlight a device that will finally complement its recent lineup of products, along with the Pixel Watch.

Given the excitement that followed the surprise announcement at Google I/O, the company has to make sure this device is worth the wait. Google says it will be a premium tablet, which leads us to assume that the offerings shown in the teaser yesterday won’t be the final product.

However, as much as Google can take advantage of mastering every element of hardware — from design to display, to webcams and power — the Pixel Tablet doesn’t stand a chance unless Google introduces its own Android A game.

If I were to run the show at Google, I’d pour all of the Android team’s resources into nailing a version of Android that not only matches the best of iPadOS, but takes tablets into an exciting new era. I’m calling it now – the Pixel Tablet will go as far as only Android can carry. I’m not sure what we’ve seen yet is anywhere near enough.

Google is currently working on Android 12L, which finally brings some must-have UI features to tablets. Like the iPad’s Dock, there’s a non-permanent taskbar filled with your favorite apps. It also enables users to select apps and drag others into split screen mode, to work within apps simultaneously. There is an improved notification shade with built-in quick settings. In the end, it’s all in 2022.

Yesterday, at the Google I/O conference, the Android team reviewed how this will be improved. Tablet versions of more than 20 Google stock apps? Well great. Easy-to-use tablet version of Google Play Store and new tablet app discovery tools? Better late than never, boys? Third-party apps like TikTok, Zoom, and Facebook are also on board? Well, let’s do this!

Pixel tablet

You will be able to copy from your phone and paste it on your tablet in Android 13, which is part of the company’s engine to improve communication between devices. Google also ensures that you can use a digital pen and rest your hand on the screen without any unwanted input.

It’s everything you’d expect, but nothing out of the ordinary and it raises questions about how serious Google is about making a truly competitive tablet. There’s plenty of time for Google to improve this and add some experiences that tell users: “Great, I need a Pixel Tablet in 2023” and the company should use it.

Like smartwatches, Google completely abandoned the tablet to Apple, allowing it to take full control of the entire sector. I’ve never been able to figure out why the company didn’t make a proper stab at a tablet OS the first time around. I had a moment in the sun, almost a decade ago, with the Nexus 7 (great device, shocking longevity), but then I ditched the ghost altogether.

Since the middle of the last decade, Google has relied on other manufacturers like Samsung to make the only Android tablets that can truly rival the iPad. But Google’s indifference to tablets means that these manufacturers always struggle with operating system limitations. It was the same story with Android Wear / Wear OS watches, until Google finally introduced Samsung and Fitbit with Wear OS 3.

So, while I welcome Google to finally take tablets seriously, it will take more than a solid piece of hardware with a Tensor processor to convince me. We need to see a version of Android that tells us more about the future of tablets than the past.

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