What is a tablet? What is a tablet supposed to be and what does it do? Nine years ago, these questions stood out in discussions of new technologies, as Apple was preparing to introduce its first iPad and rival companies were quick to hit it. CES 2010 gave us an answer in the form of the 8.9-inch HP Slate, a Windows 7 PC that runs on an Intel Atom processor. A few weeks later, Apple’s iPad made its debut with a 9.7-inch screen and mobile chips and software. And then a year later, Google released a version of Android called Honeycomb that was designed specifically for tablets.
Nobody understood tablets back then; everyone was guessing Apple originally envisioned the iPad as the glossy magazine equivalent of Amazon’s Kindle. The iPad would be more interactive, it would have applications, but a large part of its appeal had to come from “digital magazines” and comics created for the platform. Publishers quickly discovered that the idea was too expensive to sustain, and Apple found that people were using the iPad for many other purposes as well. The company’s initial reluctance to offer a stylus or keyboard has evolved into multiple generations of keyboard sleeves and Apple pens. The development of the Apple iPad has been characterized by learning, adaptation and evolution.
Android apps are designed for phones, Chrome OS is for laptops, and the tablet that mixes the two is a mess.
What has Google done in that time? Well, the Mountain View company. have taken over the world of Android smartphones, so there is. But translating that operating system (OS) to tablets has been a tragic and chronic failure for Google. The Motorola Xoom and Xyboard, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the 13-inch Toshiba Excite, and a litany of Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and Google have all shown promise only to disappoint. Android on tablets has only been attractive on a couple of 7-inch devices (the Google Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab) and on task-specific tablets like Amazon Fire HD and Nvidia’s Shield Tablet, which are more about content than The operating system.
The reason for the failure of Android as a tablet OS should be obvious. Android is made for smartphones. Its system requirements are aligned with the capabilities of a smartphone, its application library is designed to fit a smartphone screen, and all of its basic usability functions are designed for the vertical orientation of a smartphone. Of course, phone screens have continued to grow for the past decade, but they are likely to find their ceiling just at the point where they reach the dimensions of the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab. Android is not infinitely expandable.
Putting Android on a 10-inch (or larger) tablet makes as much sense as trying to find clothes for Yao Ming in a regular store. Sure, you can dig up some scarves, ties, and belts that are a fit, but most things will be a total mismatch. Google got that message after its series of embarrassing failures. But instead of going to a tailor, the company started searching the clown costume aisle with its Chrome OS, just as the Pixel Slate exhibited, clearly doofy.
A tablet is bigger than a phone, but it is not a big phone; it is smaller than a laptop but not a small laptop
Android is an operating system designed for phones, Chrome OS is an operating system designed for laptops, and the combination of Android apps and Chrome software that Google serves up on the Pixel Slate is a disaster. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at the size of a tablet screen and saying, “It’s like a laptop, so put your laptop software on it,” or consider your touchscreen and declare “It is. just an extended phone. ” .
Tablets, despite being close to phones and laptops, are unique. To have a good tablet experience, you need an operating system that is made specifically for that task. It should offer an intuitive touchscreen interface, like a phone, but it should also make full use of its larger screen space and higher spec ceiling. The Apple iPad is, of course, the role model for how this is done. Apple has developed custom X editions of its iPhone chips for use in the iPad, taking advantage of the larger battery and better cooling of the tablet. The company has also dedicated major iOS releases to enhance the functionality of the iPad, even as the iPhone remains its most important product. That, coupled with a historic willingness among app developers to create iPad-specific apps, creates a unique user experience for iPad.
Creating good tablet hardware is trivial compared to building a good tablet experience
As long as Google keeps trying to put its software for other platforms on a tablet, it will continue to suffer the ignominy of failure. Android Wear on smartwatches, now called Wear OS, has been another instructive example of what a very simple concept should be: if you want to build the best possible version of any device, the software has to be designed for it. Someone at Google should really check out Microsoft’s long and aborted history of trying to shrink Windows enough to fit mobile devices. (Today’s Surface Pro 2-in-1 is good, but they’re still more portable than tablets.) There’s also Intel’s spectacular and dazzling version of pseudo-mobile chips that were processors for laptops and desktops.
The future of technology will be defined by greater software specialization, not less. Even today, the best fitness trackers feature featherlight software specifically designed for efficient processing of biometric data. The best cameras, something Google knows a lot about, are defined by highly customized and multi-layered exploitation of basic hardware.
Good software, despite its name, is incredibly difficult to do. That’s what makes it tempting for pragmatic companies to try and take shortcuts, as every PC maker that ships a copy of Windows or every phone maker that relies on Android does. But Google is not just another company, and its competition, the Apple iPad, is not just another formula of transistors and pixels. To take on the iPad, Google must forgo its Dr. Frankenstein performance and simply take the time to create a tablet from new parts.
The truth is, almost anyone in tech can build a good tablet, but very few have been able to build a good tablet experience.