Ironically, one of the most pressing growth directions for Android is one of the oldest form factors – tablets.
A few years ago, analysts and observers of the PC market, which they traditionally mean laptops and desktop computers, loved to make fun of them, and especially of their position as an outsider in the market. Be that as it may, today this status has passed to tablets, whose sales figures are constantly falling. But with the release of iPad Pro and the flourishing of hybrid 2-in-1 solutions based on Windows, this fate has more affected Android – tablets, despite their former glory . Why have once popular devices fallen so low? Is it possible to save them or is it not even worth trying? My option is possible, but OEMs will need a fair amount of exposure, which they have lost over the years, for this.
Kingdom under complete siege
Tablets on Android were a phenomenon. Despite the fact that popularity did not come immediately, mainly due to Google's slow transition to this form factor, the variety and number of options, especially in terms of pricing, became just a song for consumers. They no longer had to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy a new one iPad. In a way, they could dictate their own terms, choose combinations of features and cost, and vice versa, and tablets filled an important niche. Users needed a mobile device that would allow them to comfortably browse the web and videos, send emails, upload photos, and even, albeit with difficulty, type the text of the document. In essence, these are the functions of a laptop, but in a more affordable and compact format. These needs have driven sales of tablets of all sizes and price points, with some, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note and Asus Transformer Pad, targeting niche markets with an emphasis on productivity or creativity.
That was the time when phablets were considered ridiculous, and the diagonals of smartphones did not exceed 5 inches. Today smartphones like iPhone SE have become the exception to the rule. Modern smartphones have completely displaced tablets from their place in the market. Why buy a 7-inch or 8-inch tablet when a 5.5-inch smartphone can do the same things, if not more? Many have even fallen in love with very large phablets, from 6 inches and more, precisely because they are both a huge smartphone and a mini-tablet.
On the other hand, the top and large tablets were threatened Windows – the revolution. Having made the first pancake with Windows 8, the OS sharpened for fingers from Microsoft finally closed the gap in Windows 10, and it was noticed by OEMs. There are now more hybrids, convertible laptops than ever before, and in exchange for being massive, they offer the functionality and flexibility of more expensive and larger tablets.
There was a time when all tablets did not sell well. But Apple managed to withstand the coming trouble (for a while) by releasing iPad Pro. Android – tablets, on the other hand, got into a hopeless situation and many manufacturers responded as expected and quit this game. The best example of this prophecy, which came true for many manufacturers, was a small announcement from Dell, which announced its rejection of further development Android – tablets in favor of solutions on Windows. And although they cannot be accused of trying to follow the trends of the market, they can still be accused of helping to create this situation.
In the years of tablet fever, manufacturers have strived to be the first to innovate. There were tablets with a stylus, transforming tablets that turned into laptops or phones that turned into tablets. Some of these ideas eventually found their way into tablets Windows and devices iPad. Oddly enough, this ended the development of Android – the tablet as a class. Perhaps the manufacturers appreciated the decrease in profits and decided that they could not pull the costs of development and production. Instead, they shifted their focus to the budget segment. This was usually the case for many lesser known manufacturers, but soon even big players like Samsung and LG began to produce tablets in the mid-range and budget segment, paying little attention to innovation in the premium segment.
This approach may have worked, but not for long. Then smartphones began to grow in size and gain in performance. At that time, any mid-range smartphone with a large diagonal could give odds to most tablets in everything, except for autonomy. And from him you could call and take him anywhere. Cheap tablets have become just a minuscule in financial statements, as happened with cheap smartphones and traditional mobile phones.
Tablets are changing and it is clear that the approach of the past no longer works, as sales show. To survive, tablets, especially those based on Android, need to find a new reason to exist, a new place in the field of working with devices. The paths beaten by Microsoft Surface and iPad Pro have shown that tablets still have room to grow, despite the seeming uselessness of most tablets. Over the past couple of years, many tablets on Android have been used as ways of consuming information. Most of the potential for content creation was not seen as a promoted feature, but as a byproduct of performance and device size. By comparison, the Surface and iPad Pro have earned the favor of content creators, be they document writers, artists, or multimedia professionals. They not only have the power they need, but they also have an ecosystem of features and accessories to fulfill their potential.
Such scenarios threaten to squeeze laptops in their territory, but still, many laptops, at least for the foreseeable future, will be able to offer what some current tablets cannot do: mobility, flexibility in use and good autonomy. Even tablets such as the iPad Pro, with some compromises and workflow changes, can be a full replacement for desktops and laptops. Android – tablets, of course, are also capable of this. If only the OS itself helped in this.
Android Nougat – the beginning, but not a panacea
Strange, but Android, the more open mobile platform is still lagging behind in this regard. In fact, Google's OS is capable of many things that iOS 9 is so proud of today, especially on iPad Pro. Android has always been functional and attracted developers. And as Samsung has demonstrated, you can always bypass the restrictions when needed. However, despite the potential hidden under the hood, Android in general, regardless of the brand, does not provide developers with full and easy access to such opportunities. The best example is split screen and multi-window. All this has long been technically possible, but broad support will not officially appear until this fall with the release of Android 7.0. It will not do without the difficulties of growth.
But this is not the only area that Android needs to be worked on to become a more productive and diverse platform. The OS has built-in support for input devices, especially 'mice', but the platform and applications are not fully tuned for them, sometimes the 'press and hold' gesture is still used, which is incomprehensible to those using a 'mouse'. In short, Android as a platform is technically capable of more than it is now, but the devil is always in the details. Nougat is trying to solve these minor problems, but this is just the beginning. And this is not the only point.
Android needs a cool tablet
In the software part, everything is fine, but all this is useless without a device that can demonstrate all the benefits. The instability of the current situation with Android – tablets was not caused by flaws in the 'software', although it played a role. This was primarily due to the scarce hardware. Tablets based on Android began to look so identical, at least on the inside, that the choice of device began to be reduced to the level of aesthetic perception or brand loyalty, and not to real competitive features. Compare this to smartphones, which also started to get a similar exterior, but are moving towards innovation, be it in the part of the screen, fast charging, biometric scanners and so on.
The Android tablet market needs a device that will declare to the whole world: 'This is how Android – a tablet should be!'. This role has traditionally been assigned to the Nexus line of tablets, which have become a kind of benchmark for 'hardware'. But if the Nexus is a representation of Google's vision of its OS, then, unfortunately, you can't hope for the best. Compared to Nexus smartphones, the tablets of the line do not differ in appearance from the host Android – tablets on the market, the difference is in the best characteristics. Google was not particularly enthusiastic about tablets, starting with the stage of working on compatibility Android with large screens. There are plenty of rumors about the new Nexus smartphones, which can not be said about the tablet, which, perhaps, indicates the unchanged position of Google.
The exception is the Google Pixel C, which in all respects is an excellent example of how a bundle of software and hardware should look like. The tablet may have been put on the market too early in Google's rush to claim, 'We've got a hybrid tablet too!' And this slightly undermined the credibility of the device. Of course, Nougat will clean up the flaws, but it won't be a magic wand.
But do we need tablets at this stage Android? Definitely, both in terms of marketing and growth in the market. Microsoft and Apple glorify their tablets, which can simultaneously function as a PC, and Google has nothing to its credit, except for some exceptions, such as Jide Remix Ultratablet and the already irrelevant Galaxy Note Pro. This situation gives the wrong message that Android does not fit into this market, and theoretically and technically it should be in the leading positions.
Despite poor sales, tablets won't go anywhere. They are changing, many of them becoming 2-in-1 hybrids, separating themselves from the usual laptops, which, in turn, are becoming faster workhorses for hardcore gamers. If in the interests Android there is an idea of being a platform for any device, then this market must be monopolized. The platform needs room to grow. Android Wear in a kind of stagnation. Android Auto is just entering the market. Android TV is almost deadlocked. Ironically, one of the hottest growth areas for Android is one of the oldest form factors – tablets.
Original material by JC Torres
Good message, new – forgotten old, why not Android really take on the missed opportunity to grow in the tablet market? The idea is echoed by numerous rumors about the development of the Nexus tablet with the participation of Google and Huawei. So maybe Mountain View really decided to catch up with the competitors that had gone ahead? Android has every chance of gaining a certain market share, from the technical point of view it is more than justified, if only the implementation did not fail.
The attitude towards the tablet as a class was influenced by the release of Honeycomb, which failed to attract new users to the idea of using Android on the big screen, the only memorable innovation was the first hints of the Holo interface. In order to lead tablets to success, you need to consider this experience and not be afraid to experiment. Do you think there is a future for Android on tablets? Or will dual boot solutions look more attractive?