Google’s Pixel team is working on an Android tablet for 2023

Google returns to the tablet game. The company’s internal hardware division plans to release an Android tablet in 2023, senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh announced Wednesday at his I/O developer conference. Osterloh was light on details, except to say that it will run on the same Tensor processor in Google’s latest Pixel phones and that he envisions it as a consumer-oriented gadget focused on entertainment and consumption rather than work. †The edge‘s Dan Seifert, who briefly saw a photo during a product briefing prior to I/O, immediately said “it looks like an old Samsung tablet.”) But Osterloh’s overall message is clear: Google cares about Android tablets. This time for real.

The announcement is a huge turning point in Google’s recent history. In 2019, when Osterloh himself said that Google get out of the tablet business† “Hey, it’s true,” he tweeted in response to rumors that Google would be shutting down its existing tablet products, “Google’s HARDWARE team will focus solely on building laptops in the future,” though he again said the software teams are still interested in supporting tablets. That announcement seemed to cool the market, as if it was a signal that Google would never get serious about tablets. Since then, few companies outside of Samsung have gone on to make Android slates.

So why the change of heart? “We see it as a critical part of how people interact with media and computers at home,” Osterloh said in an interview prior to I/O. Google seems to see Chrome OS mainly as a tool for work and school, while Android is the consumer product. (Osterloh did say that Google plans to make more Pixelbooks, but he wouldn’t say when.) And the pandemic made it clearer than ever to Google that tablets occupy a unique place in users’ lives as entertainment, gaming, and consumer devices. general consumption. (You’d think more than a decade of Apple’s iPad success would have made that clear, but alas.) “And sure, we think we want to design something that’s a perfect partner for Pixel with a larger form factor,” said he. †

One way to understand the Pixel family in general is less as a product organization designed to sell many devices and more as a showpiece of Google’s intentions. Google isn’t just building a flagship tablet, it hopes many people will buy; it’s building a flagship tablet so Android developers inside and outside Google will believe that Google really cares about these devices and will have a reason to care about how their apps look on a bigger screen. Google can’t build a great tablet if it can’t start that flywheel. Solving the tablet problem requires more than great hardware and even more than dedicated attention from the entire team at Google. It requires the entire ecosystem to decide it’s worth making a dime, when Google has spent a decade giving them reasons not to.

Fortunately, Google knows that better than anyone. Back in the early days of Android, when Google’s internal hardware projects were called Nexus instead of Pixel, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 were some of the best tablet hardware on the market. But Android tablets never caught on, largely because Android was never suitable for tablets and Google never seemed to care. Apps tended to treat tablets as “phones with giant screens” rather than a device category in their own right, so they were large and unsuitable and generally didn’t work well.

Google’s tablet fits into the wider Tensor-powered Pixel lineup.
Image: Google

In any case, that seems to be changing internally. “The Android team has invested a ton in the space,” Osterloh said. Starting with Android 12L and continuing with some new features in Android 13, such as an updated taskbar with an app drawer that makes it easier to run two apps side by side, the OS is finally starting to look optimized for larger ones. screens. The Pixel Tablet (or whatever it’s called) will be a showcase for that work. “We wanted to make sure people were aware of this so they knew it’s important not only for the Android team, but for our team as well. And we intend to fall into this category, from then on and continue forever.”

Trystan Upstill, a VP of engineering on the Android team, said his team has also worked with third-party developers to adapt their apps to the larger screens. “TikTok, Zoom and Facebook are building new apps for tablets this year,” he said in an interview, “and there are many more to come.” Google will also be updating 20 of its own apps — Google Maps, Google Messages, YouTube Music, and more — for tablets in the coming weeks. That’s a strong sign of progress, but the fact that those updates are just now coming says a lot about Google’s history in the space.

Android 13 makes multitasking much easier on larger screens.
Image: Google

Google’s focus on tablets may also have to do with the state of smartphones. As foldable phones become more and more popular, they also become one of the most compelling reasons to prefer an Android device over an iPhone. All too often, Android doesn’t work great on the larger foldable screens either. “The difference, of course, is that they have two screens,” Upstill said. “And the layout changes are making a big difference. But what we do for tablets, we also translate directly into improvements for foldable tablets.”

And if you’re after Android tablets are great, you need to make sure that foldable tablets are successful. Because it’s not hard to imagine a world where Google really tries to make Android tablets work again, only to find that Apple’s iPad and Microsoft Surface are so far ahead that it will be impossible to catch up and decide. to just move on to something new and shinier. Foldables could keep Google’s focus on big screens for much longer, though, if they are indeed the next big thing in smartphones.

Osterloh seems serious about bringing the Pixel gloss to the Android tablet world. But if Google wants to make a successful launch next year, it needs help. And fast.

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