All indications are that Google is launching not one but two Android tablets in 2023. The question is, why would Google make the Pixel Tablet Pro at all?
For more than a decade now, Google and other device manufacturers have been trying to make Android tablets truly competitive with Apple’s iPad. Whether or not these efforts succeeded is a matter of debate, but Google itself has long backed out of the Android tablet space. Even the Pixel C tablet from 2015 was originally supposed to run ChromeOS instead of Android, making Google’s latest Nexus 9 tablet semen for Android devices.
In some ways, Google’s use of Chrome OS as its flagship tablet experience made a lot of sense. After all, Chromebooks can run Android apps, and there’s a full desktop experience ready to go with just the click of a keyboard and mouse. The Pixelbook has proven this better than any other device to date, but the same can’t be said of Google’s latest tablet, the 2018 Pixel Slate.
Where the Pixelbook struck a nice balance between laptop and tablet and was judged against other laptops/Chromebooks, the Pixel Slate was the tablet first, judging the iPad and even Android tablets. Without going into too much detail — you can read more about that saga in our previous coverage — the short version is that the Pixel Slate failed at being a productive laptop and wasn’t a compelling tablet compared to even a cheaper iPad.
This failure even led Google to cancel two other tablet projects that were in the works. Despite that failure, the work Google put into making great ChromeOS tablets eventually paved the way for great tablets available today like the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet series.
Fast forward to 2022, and Google has multiple new visions of what a tablet could be and the role it plays in everyday life. On the one hand, Google has noticed that Android tablets often go a long time without being used. To give your home tablet a new purpose while it’s idle (and keep it charged and ready to go), the Google Pixel Tablet can be placed on a dock, turning it into a Nest Hub-like smart display.
This vision makes perfect sense for a more affordable iteration of the Pixel Tablet, which is meant for simple entertainment and smart home control. However, that doesn’t jibe with the existence of a high-end “Pixel Tablet Pro,” which we’ve seen many clues to Google’s readiness, with new bits of evidence coming out regularly.
From the “Pro” designation, we think Google is once again trying to create a tablet that’s ready for normal workday productivity. This brings us to Google’s second strategy for the future of Android tablets. Earlier this year, Rich Miner, Google’s chief technology officer for tablets, shared a vision for Android tablets that power entirely new apps and experiences thanks to the use of a stylus.
If tablets are really going to be this new device for people to be creative and productive, what new apps will benefit people who might be doing pen-enabled things out of the gate? What does that mean for the mobility you have with a tablet that you don’t even have with a laptop?
– Rich Miner
To that end, Google told us the Pixel Tablet will support USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) styluses, making it the first Android device to do so. Basically, you’ll be able to buy any USI or use a stylus you might already own from a different device—instead of ordering an expensive Google-branded accessory—and use it with your Pixel tablet, which offers high precision and pressure sensitivity.
No more granular details of tablet pen support have been leaked, but USI pen compatibility is a good fit for the productivity-focused Pixel Tablet Pro, especially if apps from Google and third parties are updated to put them to good use. On the contrary, skipping pen support is one of Google’s ways could Keeping costs down for the mainstream Pixel Tablet model.
Meanwhile, across various Android apps from Google and even Android itself, the company has also made an effort to make the operating system more keyboard friendly. Google Docs and other Workspace apps have gained useful keyboard shortcuts, while the latest Android Beta has included an upcoming feature that makes it easier to open a specific app with just the keyboard. Even better, last week we saw concrete progress on Android’s long-awaited “desktop” mode.
As my colleague Abner Li reported in October, Google has been upfront about delivering a good productivity experience for the Pixel Tablet by working with both internal and third-party developers.
Between the keyboard and/or stylus accessories and the beefed-up core specs that a “Pro” device usually brings, the Pixel Tablet Pro has a prime position as a masterpiece as Google wants to take Android to the big screens. The only question is whether this vision will materialize in time for early adopters of Google’s upcoming device or if other tablet makers like Lenovo and Samsung will reap the benefits.
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