For a long time, Google left Android for tablets. After the tablet-only version of Honeycomb 3.0 Android in 2011, the company gradually simplified the standard Android interface. While manufacturers like Samsung have jumped into the hole left by Google to create some of the best Android tablets you can get right now, Apple has clearly conquered the tablet market.
The lack of proper competition has led to feature destruction in iPadOS, which has become increasingly difficult to use if you want to get the most out of it. This is where Google comes in with Android for tablets. The company manages to give its tablet interface the right balance of features and useful, tablet-friendly apps, without overwhelming users with too many navigation paradigms, multitasking gestures, and complex widget systems.
Apple just launched iPadOS 16 alongside macOS Ventura and iOS 16.1. With the company’s newest tablet operating system, the interface feels closer to what you’d get on a laptop than any other mobile-first operating system. Apple introduced Stage Manager, a new window mode for iPadOS. It allows you to open multiple apps in windows, resize them, and move them around. It’s a neat idea, but it adds another piece to the complex puzzle that is iPadOS.
Even before that, iPadOS abandoned the touch screen mode that Apple had been sticking to for years. The addition of a touch-like cursor to the Magic Keyboard, an optional accessory for the iPad, suddenly allowed the iPad to be used as a proper laptop replacement. You no longer need to lift your fingers from the keyboard while typing.
Arguably, the trend of making the iPad more complex began when the company introduced a split-screen option to display two apps side-by-side. It makes many workflows more efficient and helps with simple things like checking your Twitter feed while watching a video. But this comes at the expense of a more complex system, where you sometimes move app icons around to create split-screen interfaces and sometimes to change the layout of your home screen.
These add-ons for iPadOS aren’t bad and are clearly intended for power users. However, most people will never touch features like Stage Manager, and many will never get beyond the split view between the two apps. Those interested in a device like the $330 9th generation iPad will never want to use it for entertainment like streaming video, playing games, and chatting with friends and family. For most users, these features are unnecessary.
An increasingly complex and Mac-like interface may diminish the benefits even for power users. After all, you can get a decent MacBook for the same money and support desktop-class software that’s much better at split-screen, multitasking, and window management.
With that in mind, Apple didn’t do itself any favors with the new $450 iPad. This is an opportunity for Google and its renewed interest in tablets.
Android status of tablets
We’re looking at things being stagnant on the Android side for years. Only manufacturers like Samsung have long tried to keep innovating with new features, often opting for the same feature set as the iPad. After years of passive watching, Google finally took control of software development with Android 12L, its first big-screen-focused release in ages. With Android 13 further improved, we’re now looking at a coherent idea of where Google wants to take its mobile operating system and tablet interface. Things look nice and simple.
Google focuses on split-screen interfaces that use additional horizontal space tablets when held in landscape mode. Google thinks that everything that can be split into a dual-pane view should be split, such as a notification bar that offers notifications on the right and quick settings and a media player on the left. This applies to other apps as well, Google encourages developers to create two-pane layouts for display menu items on the one hand and content on the other.
Google makes it easy to use the split-screen interface by helping you open two apps at the same time. First, the company added a taskbar at the bottom of its big-screen interface with the ability to pin a number of apps. They can be easily dragged and dropped to the right or left side of the screen to open a split-screen view with the app you’re currently viewing in full-screen mode. It’s something we know from the iPad, but while Apple aims to complicate the system with options like Stage Manager, Google keeps things simple and touchscreen-oriented.
This is almost an ironic situation. Android has long had a reputation as a bloated system, with skins like Samsung’s TouchWiz packing every feature under the sun into the phone to set it apart from the competition. Now, iPadOS feels like a system that offers features that normal users will never touch much.
The Google Pixel tablet for most
Google’s focus on the basics may stem from its position as a new entrant, but it may be working in its favor. This could be something that Google needs to succeed and gain a huge advantage as it prepares to release the Google Pixel tablet. If done right, the company could sell the Pixel tablet as a simple and affordable alternative to the new, more expensive iPad — as long as the Pixel Tablet is cheaper.
Google seems to be in a perfect position to undercut the iPad on price and features. On top of the Android features and design paradigms discussed above, the company wants to position the Pixel tablet primarily as a smart home device alongside the company’s Nest Hub line. As we understand it, the Pixel Tablet includes a magnetic dock in the box, allowing it to do double duty as a tablet you can carry and a smart home Nest Hub at the same time. We’re usually skeptical of these versatile designs, but pairing a tablet with a smart home hub makes sense in many people’s lives.
Google’s idea is supported by Samsung. The company recently launched a Smart Things Hub in its home market of South Korea, which it wants to be a Pixel tablet: a tablet that lives on a magnetic mount and often serves as a hub for your smart home. Google can count itself lucky if Samsung doesn’t launch this tablet in other markets before the Pixel, but it also proves that other competitors see value in a similar product. Apple is even rumored to release an iPad that doubles as a smart home hub, so the idea isn’t far-fetched.