Once upon a time, Google cared about Android tablets. Then it didn’t. Then it did. After a few more back and forth cycles, now we appear to be coming back to “Google cares about Android tablets.” Google is releasing a new version of Android soon with optimizations specifically for larger devices, and it’s even hiring high-level employees to oversee Android tablets. But is it too late to compete with the iPad?
Google ramped up its focus on Android tablets last year when it began work on Android 12L. This is the first time since Android 8.1 Oreo that Google has released a major midcycle OS update. Android 12L will include optimizations for large-screen devices like foldables and tablets. While Google has not announced any new tablets, Android OEMs like Nokia and Lenovo have started producing much nicer tablet hardware, and the software might catch up soon.
The latest wrinkle is a new job posting, spotted by 9to5Google. The listing is for a “Senior Engineering Manager, Android Tablet App Experience,” and the description makes it clear this person will oversee new Android tablet refinements and “hero experiences.” I can’t complain — that’s a job someone at Google should be doing. Although, they probably should have been doing it for the last decade. In today’s world, the iPad is the de facto king of tablets.
Google first dipped its toe in the tablet market in 2011 with the Motorola Xoom. It made numerous UI changes to Android for the “Honeycomb” release on tablets, but the optimizations were chipped away little by little over the years until Android tablets bore a striking resemblance to a giant phone. That wasn’t so bad when the Nexus 7 launched. It was small enough that phone apps and experience made sense, but even this was too much for Google. It released two Nexus 7s, as well as a few larger tablets. However, the 2015 Pixel C (top) was the last Android tablet from Google itself. In 2019, it released the Chrome-based Pixel Slate, but after lackluster sales, Google said it was backing away from the form factor.
All the while, the iPad has been growing its market share and picking up new features. With the latest generation, Apple has slates that are as powerful as its macOS laptops and enhanced with impressive ecosystem integrations for messaging, screen sharing, and more. Google is only just getting started with its latest tablet initiative, and that might be too late to catch up to the iPad. But what comes after tablets? It’s possible that Google’s new focus on tablets could end up feeding into the burgeoning foldable market. Google is rumored to have a Pixel foldable in the works, and unlike tablets, this is a place where Android is ahead of the iPhone with successful products like the Galaxy Z Fold3.