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Why Google suddenly seems to care about tablets again

Google is no stranger to the tablet game. The company has been building the hardware since the launch of the Nexus 7 in 2012, but after failing to properly compete with Apple’s iPads throughout the rest of the decade, Google allowed its tablets take the back seat to let its far more successful smartphones drive the company’s mobile tech. Now, Google is back to pushing Android tablets and seems to want to be in genuine competition with Apple in the space once again.

As of late, Android tablets are being brought to the forefront of Google’s mobile brand with the upcoming rollout of the Android 12L update. While certainly bringing plenty of new features to other mobile devices, Android 12L pays special attention to tablets by adding features that specifically take advantage of the devices’ bigger screens. 

Now, the company seems to be pushing tablets just as hard as, if not harder than, the Pixel and the rest of Google’s mobile division.

When looking into the marketing of the upcoming major Android update, tablets are inescapable. This is, essentially, a complete 180-degree turn for Google from its previous marketing. which generally separated its tablets from the rest of its mobile brand or made them feel like something of an afterthought. Now, the company seems to be pushing tablets just as hard as, if not harder than, the Pixel and the rest of Google’s mobile division.

Time again for tablets

This change has been noted internally as well. Rich Miner, Android co-founder and chief technology officer of tablets at Google, seems to think that the company’s tablets are going to be on the rise again. He states as much in a recent video posted to the Android Developers YouTube channel.

In the video, which is part interview/part infographic, Miner discusses a trend that Google has noticed in the last few years. He claims that tablet sales began to rise in late 2019 and then saw another major spike in early 2020 as a result of the start of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the newfound popularity that Android tablets were seeing, Google shifted its focus with Android 12L to being “purpose-built for large screens.”

It makes sense, then, why Google has been shifting its mobile focus to include tablets as a bigger part of its brand despite Apple’s continued dominance in the space. While the iPad remains at the top of the market in terms of processing power, Android tablets have begun rising in popularity due to their lower price point. 

The Nokia T20 tablet tucked into a backpack with several other items.

It’s not all about price

After all, not all tablet owners are going to want to pay for the power that comes with an iPad. That’s especially true since tablets are so popular with children. If a device owner is planning on using a tablet for simpler activities like streaming video content or using it as a word processor, then budget Android tablets are a no-brainer purchase.

As Miner said in the Android Developers video, Google has noted the sheer number of Android tablets in the hands of consumers and isn’t planning on forgetting about them. He claims that tablet purchases almost began rivaling laptop purchases in 2020 a fact that checks out when examining sales information compiled by IDC.

Miner expects tablet sales to outpace laptop sales “in the not-too-distant future.”

As tablets continue being a competitive piece of hardware in relation to laptops, Miner expects tablet sales to outpace laptop sales “in the not-too-distant future.” Depending on what Google is classifying as a tablet, that time might be coming sooner than many consumers realize.

The foldable comeback

A Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 phone sits on a table in front of several Z Fold devices.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While Apple smartphones have generally kept a similar design since their introduction, Android has been playing around with its phones in recent years. The “all-screen, no bezel” design is still at the forefront of Android products, with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S22 being a premier smartphone. Foldable tech has also begun making its way to prominence once more.

There was a time in the mid-2000s when foldable phones (clamshells, etc.) were the industry standard, but as glass-slab smartphones like the iPhone began to dominate the market, foldable tech was left behind. In recent years, however, foldable phones have begun making a comeback, with devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 showing the industry the value that foldable screens can provide.

Google sees foldables as a way to bridge the gap between phones and tablets in the same way that the gap between tablets and laptops has been bridged in the last five years or so. As foldable phones get more popular, the tablet user base will grow with it. Since the biggest foldable devices are all Androids, the user base will be turning exclusively to Google for its software.

It’s no wonder why Google is beginning to see the importance of tablets from here on out as its userbase is likely to continue drastically expanding in areas where iPads don’t reach. Android 12L was designed with tablets in mind to cater to Google’s growing userbase, but that isn’t where the company is planning on stopping.

Tablet-first mentality

Miner specifically mentions that Google is urging app developers to begin designing software with a “tablet-first” focus rather than a “mobile-first” mentality. He compares the design philosophy shift to the one that happened as smartphones began their rise in popularity. App developers couldn’t simply port their software directly to mobile without major redesigns, so a shift was made to bring mobile design to the front of the development process. That kind of change is what Google is pushing its app developers to do for tablets.

As Android tablets continue growing, Google wants its apps to take advantage of the real estate available on larger screens. The company is alsoreminding developers to be thinking about the inherent differences that come with tablets. Users may be using additional hardware like styluses or attachable keyboards so those sorts of things are going to be considered more heavily as developers make the shift to “tablet-first” designs.

There’s no telling what else Google has in store for the future of Android tablets, but it seems like the company isn’t planning on pulling back like it did in the 2010s. Apple certainly isn’t hurting to find a userbase in the tablet space, but as Android devices continue to grow in the cracks in iPad coverage over the next several years, it’ll be curious to see if the company becomes more competitive in those spaces as well. One thing is certainly clear: Google is interested in investing in its future and, from the looks of it, that appears to be Android tablets.

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Peter Hunt Szpytek
A podcast host and journalist, Peter covers mobile news with Digital Trends and gaming news, reviews, and guides for sites…
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