What Does it Take to Save the Android Tablet?
A tablet should never be a giant phone
Android tablets haven’t been doing well lately. There are simply better options out there that offer more in terms of productivity, features, and usability. But there’s still hope for them, and I think that they could be great with just a few really important considerations.
The Pixel C was supposed to be the quintessential Android tablet, but it fell short of that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Android wasn’t ready for it. The Pixel C should have had features like Multi-window, or even some of the very innovative implementations from ROMs such as Remix OS (one of my favorite features that both of these ROMs have is the taskbar).
But instead it seemed as though the tablet was meant to be something else, maybe a chromebook, and didn’t quite capture the android tablet market like perhaps it was meant to.
Honeycomb, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting iterations of Android simply because it was created with tablets in mind, and brought us a myriad of new and improved features that benefited tablets, such as the better (and more visual) multitasking, and the unique system bar. But one of the better things that Honeycomb brought to the table was the tablet-specific developer features, which allowed developers to explore the possibilities of that larger screen, particularly with features such as activity fragments. The activity fragments work really well on tablets because the user can see all the information at once.
The interesting thing about Honeycomb is that, unfortunately, it didn’t really take off in terms of continuing to innovate in the Android tablet space. Sure, Honeycomb brought many new features to Android in general and contributed nicely to the overall growth of the operating system as a whole, but because of Google’s original vision with Honeycomb being kind of a separate tablet version of Android, and then the subsequent removal of that decision, Android tablets today run the same basically Android version as their phone counterparts with little if any innovation (like the modified navigation bar in recent releases) to make Android tablets worthwhile or interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, that makes me sad. I own a Nexus 9, and even with all of this said, I use it on a regular basis to surf the internet, game, and even use in a pinch for taking notes at school. But even I have to admit that it doesn’t offer anything more than my phone in terms of experience. But, it has a larger screen and is easy and lightweight to carry around, and it is a capable device for what I need it to do. In part, though, it’s only with more capable devices that one extends the category of “what I need it to do”, after realising the usefulness of new functionality . However, if you’re looking for unique Android tablet features, you might want to check out Samsung’s offerings, even though the promise of updates and the lag of Touchwiz might be slightly off putting, Samsung has offered at least some innovation in the Android tablet space by experimenting with tablet-focused UIs and providing multi-window, even if limited.
“Sometimes it takes living with a more capable device to learn just how useful it really is”
I wrote an article last year about OEMs and how they innovate by adding system-level features to Android, and in turn Google sometimes takes these additions and they become part of the vanilla Android experience. Developers from XDA have also innovated in ways that Google adopted. While once upon a time Google tried to differentiate the Android tablet space with Honeycomb, I don’t think there is actually a need for a tablet-specific Android OS and a phone specific one, rather they could just implement APIs that work the best on tablet hardware (or at least devices with large screens, which we are seeing more and more of anyway).
Gaming is another big one. The iPad has a large gaming base, and in my opinion, it is a large factor in why the iPad has grown as much as it has as a viable tablet. Sure, there are productivity apps as well, but gaming drives the need to improve screen quality, processing power, and graphics. It’s one of the reasons the Nvidia’s Shield tablet has done relatively well in the Android space— It’s a powerful tablet marketed as a gaming machine, with a killer price to boot.
While this is no means an exhaustive list of all the things google could do to improve the Android tablet space, I really do think it would help. Perhaps with the recent reports that Google wants to take more control over the Nexus line, we can see some real improvements with Android tablets, with the Nexus (or Pixel!) line paving the way.
What do you think it takes to save Android tablets? Should Google focus more on tablets, or should they remain a lesser priority? Discuss with the community in the comments!