In my last column, I discussed many of the differentiating tactics that Lenovo and Samsung professional vendors have used over the years. In addition to these features, both tablet families offer bright, vibrant displays, long battery life, and fast performance (especially when using the latest from Qualcomm).
Despite the strides the devices have made, Android tablet makers continue to struggle with a negative history. Android has never had the same level of competition as the iPhone because of the chicken-and-egg problem with the iPad. The lack of optimized applications has reduced the appeal of tablets; at the same time, the lower volume of tablets gave developers less incentive to optimize. Low-income Android phone buyers were less likely to buy a “middle device” like a tablet. Google also made little effort to name tablets as a form factor worth optimizing for in the early days of tablets.
Google is now taking steps to make Android better for large-screen devices, but tablets face an unusual competitive environment. The iPad continues to dominate the market in the high-end pro tablet category. In fact, the biggest threat iPad ProApple’s competitive advantage comes from itself iPad AirAdopted many of the best features of the Pro line.
Now featuring USB-C and Apple’s M-series processor, these product lines benefit from a number of creative applications. The most impressive of these are iPad-exclusive and come from smaller developers; examples include a photo editor Pixelmator and video editor LumaFusion Pro. While Apple is making a capable version of GarageBand for the iPad, the iPadOS version of iMovie lags far behind its venerable Mac version, and despite rumors that they’re in the works, Apple hasn’t brought its own pro apps. Logic Pro to eat Final Cut Pro for iPad.
At the other end of the iPad line, the base model offers the best value and utility of any Apple computer product. As Apple has improved it a bit, PC vendors like Dell, HP and Acer have abandoned Android and focused on Windows, behind Chrome OS on tablets and 2-in-1s. Category Low Score Google itself has abandoned Android tablets, followed by tablets from first-party devices.
Google has improved the Android tablet’s multi-pane app experience, but it can still be slick and intuitive. Its moves come years after Android tablet vendors tried to combat windowed desktop modes like Samsung’s DeX, which are useful to preserve the experience more familiar to Windows users. While it’s strange to have dual interfaces, DeX and app compatibility on tablets have improved a lot since the feature’s debut, solving long-standing problems with Android apps’ lack of tablet optimization. Plus, as much as the Android UI is Windows-like in these desktop modes, it only adds to the desire for more screen real estate beyond the base 10-inch tablet.
As with laptops and Chromebooks, sales of larger-screen tablets have surged during the pandemic. And more than a decade after the release of Honeycomb, the first tablet-optimized Android release, Google is revisiting tablet optimization with Android 12L. Lenovo Tab P12 Pro already confirmed.
But the 12L’s focus also underscores the dynamics of the complex Android tablet category, where the iPad is outpacing its competition. The release also aims to improve Android app optimization on Chromebooks and flip phones. As Android apps find new homes in Chrome OS and even Windows, devices running those operating systems put more pressure on Android tablets to compete.
One of the most important steps Google can take to make Android tablet competitive against these platforms is to commit to a full desktop implementation of Chrome for Android, which Apple will have to do anyway to compete with the improvements Apple made to Safari in iPadOS. The availability of the extension enriches the browsing experience on Android devices, apart from solving various compatibility issues.
Beyond the browser, as Android apps become a language on devices as diverse as desktops and flip phones, developers may be interested in optimizing for larger displays that benefit Android tablets. In any case, Samsung and Lenovo — both of which offer plenty of devices in competitive categories — show no signs of abating in their enthusiasm for native Android slates.