All signs point to Google releasing not one, but two Android tablets in 2023. The question is, why is Google even making a Pixel Tablet Pro?
For over a decade, Google and other device makers have been trying to make Android tablets truly competitive with Apple’s iPad. Whether or not that effort was successful is debatable, but Google itself had long since withdrawn from the Android tablet space. Also, the 2015 Pixel C tablet was originally intended to run on ChromeOS instead of Android, making the Nexus 9 Google’s latest tablet intended for Android.
In a way, it made a lot of sense that Google would use ChromeOS as its premium tablet experience. Finally, Chromebooks can run Android apps, and there’s a full desktop experience ready to go as soon as you snap in a keyboard and mouse. The Pixelbook proved this better than any other device to date, but the same cannot be said for Google’s latest tablet, the 2018 Pixel Slate.
Where the Pixelbook struck an excellent balance between laptop and tablet and was compared to other laptops/Chromebooks, the Pixel Slate was a tablet first, competing against the iPad and even Android tablets. Without going into too much detail – you can read more about this saga in our previous coverage – the short version is that the Pixel Slate wasn’t a productive laptop and wasn’t a compelling tablet even compared to a cheaper iPad.
That failure even prompted Google to cancel two other tablet projects that were in the works. Despite this failure, Google’s work to make ChromeOS tablets great eventually paved the way for the amazing tablets available today like the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet series.
Fast forward to 2022, and Google has several new visions for what a tablet can be and the role it plays in everyday life. On the one hand, Google has noticed that Android tablets often spend a lot of time unused. To give the idle household tablet a new purpose (and keep it charged and ready to go), the Google Pixel Tablet can be placed on a dock and turn it into a smart display like the Nest Hub.
That vision makes perfect sense for a more affordable iteration of the Pixel tablet meant for easy entertainment and smart home control. However, that doesn’t fit with the existence of a high-end “Pixel Tablet Pro,” which we’ve seen numerous signs of Google preparing, with new evidence emerging regularly.
Based on the Pro designation, we think Google is once again attempting to create a tablet that’s ready for a normal workday’s productivity. This brings us to Google’s second strategy for the future of Android tablets. Earlier this year, Rich Miner, Google’s CTO of tablets, shared a vision for Android tablets with all-new apps and experiences enabled through the use of a stylus.
If tablets really do become this new device for people to be creative and productive with, what new apps would take advantage of people who might have been using styluses from the start? What does that mean for the mobility you have with a tablet that you don’t even quite have with a laptop?
— Rich miner
To that end, Google has told us that the Pixel Tablet will support USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) pens, making it the first Android device to do so. Essentially, you can buy any USI pen, or use one you might already own from another device – rather than needing an expensive Google-branded accessory – and use it with your Pixel tablet for fine precision and pressure sensitivity.
Fuller details on the tablet’s stylus support are yet to be leaked, but the USI pen compatibility fits well with a productivity-focused Pixel Tablet Pro, especially as Google and third-party apps update to make good use of it. Conversely, skipping stylus support is a Google possibility could Keep the cost down for the mainstream Pixel tablet model.
Meanwhile, across Google’s many Android apps, and even Android itself, the company has made efforts to make the operating system more keyboard-friendly. Google Docs and other workspace apps have gained useful keyboard shortcuts, while the latest Android beta version included an upcoming feature that makes it easy to open a specific app using just your keyboard. Better still, last week we even saw tangible progress on Android’s long-awaited “desktop” mode.
As my colleague Abner Li reported in October, Google has made a strong commitment to providing a good productivity experience for the Pixel tablet by working with both internal and third-party developers.
Between keyboard and/or stylus accessories and the upgraded core specs that a “Pro” device usually comes with, the Pixel Tablet Pro is in the best position to serve as a showcase for where Google is bringing Android to the big screen would like. The only question is whether this vision will materialize in time for early adopters of Google’s upcoming device, or whether other tablet makers like Lenovo and Samsung will be the ones who will benefit.
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