Google seems to be taking the “try, try again” proverb to heart when it comes to tablets, given that it just teased plans to release another tablet during Google I/O. But that doesn’t mean it’s not shaking things up. Whereas the company’s short-lived Pixel Slate ran Chrome OS, the mysterious tablet just teased at the company’s I/O conference is powered by Android.
This OS swap will pit the spiritual successor to the Slate against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab devices, which have enjoyed commercial and critical success despite being among an endangered species of Android tablets. Samsung’s endurance might be spurring the introduction of more Android-powered units into the wild as it sees gains over Chrome OS rivals in the uphill battle to win market share over the iPad.
Google reentering the Android tablet market for the first time since its Nexus devices (which were made by third-party OEMs) might come as a surprise to some. It seemed, at one point, that these counterparts to the iPad had lost mainstream appeal, and that a transition to convertible Chromebooks, or tablets with detachable keyboards, was inevitable. Google gave it a run in 2018 with the Pixel Slate, a promising device that was undone by software bugs, including Bluetooth connectivity issues. It didn’t help that, at the time, Android apps didn’t scale well. In the end, Google discontinued the Pixel Slate and scrapped plans to release a sequel.
Now it’s coming at the tablet problem from a different angle, and already has the building blocks in place. The company recently reignited efforts to improve the experience on tablets and is in the process of testing Android 12L, an upcoming update specifically for devices with large screens. It adds a two-column layout, adjusts the position of the major UI elements, and gives developers more control over letterboxing for apps that aren’t optimised for larger panels.
Google hasn’t told us much about this upcoming Android tablet, only briefly teasing it at its I/O event. We know it will run on Google Tensor, the proprietary chip powering the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a, and that it is meant as a companion device for these smartphones, much like the Galaxy Tab is a partner to Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones.
The only image of the tablet we can share as of time of writing is with it awkwardly photobombing the rest of the Pixel family, with a corner of the slate revealing a solo camera and what appear to be speaker grille slits. My colleague Florence Ion saw a render of the tablet running Material You widgets and used the word “enticing” to sum up her feelings. Google refers to the device as the “Pixel tablet.” Note the lowercase lettering here — this name may not be final, though the tablet will certainly be part of the Pixel family. Whatever the name, Google hopes to release the device sometime in 2023.