On Android Police, writer Ryan Whitwam has a retrospective on the history of Android tablets, following them from their earliest beginnings as iPad imitations to the present-day. It’s an interesting story, but perhaps the most interesting part is the end, where it focuses on the lack of any current hot new development in Android tablets since Google’s lackluster Pixel C model. Whitwam writes:
As we move on toward Android P, the market for Android tablets has all but dried up. There are some cheap devices from Asus and Huawei, as well as a handful of offerings from Samsung. However, there are no tablets that can run the P dev preview. That speaks volumes about Google’s weariness for Android on tablets.
He goes on to suggest Google might be moving on to ChromeOS tablets, since ChromeOS can now run and install apps from the Android Google Play Store, and is much more useful from a productivity standpoint than Android. “I’m not saying Android tablets are completely dead, but they might as well be. When Amazon has basically won at making tablets, it’s time to rethink your strategy.”
It’s an interesting point to ponder. Android has never been great at running business productivity apps, which has had the effect of rendering even its most “serious” efforts such as the Pixel C kind of puny and toy-like beside full-fledged business-class tablets like Microsoft’s Surface and Apple’s iPad. Sure, Android is awesome at consumer and media uses, which is probably why Amazon has done so well adapting it to run its best-selling Fire devices. Amazon doesn’t really care about business productivity; its fortune rises and falls (but mostly rises) with consumer uses—especially the consumption of ebooks and audiovisual media.
But if Whitwam’s take is right, Google’s aiming higher than that. It wants to compete on the same playing fields as Microsoft and Apple, which means it needs a way into the enterprise market, too. And that might mean productivity-oriented tablet-form-factor Chromebooks. (Chrometabs? Chromeslates?)
Might Google’s desire to move on to a new operating system also be a factor in its recent decision to stop letting its Play Store run so easily on non-licensed hardware? If it’s switching its focus to another OS, perhaps it no longer cares as much about promoting the wider use of Android, so doesn’t see any reason to make it easy for companies that don’t cut direct deals with it.
In any case, if this is right, we might just see the rise of an entirely new tablet ecosystem in the next couple of years. Unlike previous attempts to launch new tablet ecosystems, Google has not one but two catalogs of compatible apps already developed and available. People who are deeply invested in Android could continue using their Android apps on a new ChromeOS tablet, while also taking advantage of the greater flexibility ChromeOS has to offer.
And needless to say, these new tablets will still be good e-readers—with both the existing Android apps, and ChromeOS apps like Readium.
It could be interesting to see how a new tablet OS could change the dynamic of the existing market. Will cheap tablet OEMs switch over from Android to ChromeOS? Or will Google keep a tighter rein on this new operating system? Has Google learned some lessons that it can apply here from its experiences developing the Android ecosystem? Will Android continue to be developed alongside ChromeOS, and if so for how long? Or, if ChromeOS finally does make its way into business uses, will tablet Android simply fade away? Even if Android vanishes from tablets, will it still be used on phones?
We’ll learn the answers to these questions sooner or later. But in any case, Android and Fire tablets will still work just fine for consumers who want to watch media—or read ebooks.
If you found this post worth reading and want to kick in a buck or two to the author, click here.