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Google says Android tablets are the future, starts staffing up new division

Pictured: The future. (Actually this is the Motorola Xoom from 2011.)
Enlarge / Pictured: The future. (Actually this is the Motorola Xoom from 2011.)


How serious is Google going to be about Android tablets? The company is making overtures that it cares about the platform again. In addition to getting several major OEMs to start building hardware, Google is building Android 12L, a mid-cycle update of Android dedicated to tablet and foldable functionality. The company’s latest move (first spotted by 9to5Google) is a new job listing for a “Senior Engineering Manager, Android Tablet App Experience.” Get a load of this job description:

We believe that the future of computing is shifting towards more powerful and capable tablets. We are working to deliver the next chapter of computing and input by launching seamless support across our platforms and hero experiences that unlock new and better ways of being productive and creative.

This is a statement the company could have made in 2011 when the iPad launched, but apparently, the company is just now getting the message. How dedicated Google becomes to tablet “experiences” will make or break the company’s second push into tablets. Right now Android 12L seems very conservative on that front, though Google has started some tablet-specific apps with things like the “Entertainment Space” home screen panel.

One of the responsibilities of the job description is “develop roadmaps and run the execution of our ink first hero apps strategy.” Presumably “ink first” means Google is pushing for more focus on pen input. Pen input has long been championed by Samsung, but Android and the Android Google apps have never really made many affordances for styluses. (Chrome OS Pixel devices have often had styluses, but not Android tablets.)

Another tablet development that was just recently noticed comes from Computerworld’s JR Raphael, who pointed out that Android co-founder Rich Miner updated his Linkedin to show “CTO Android Tablets.” So there’s an “Android Tablet” division now? Miner apparently started in this position in March, which also meant re-joining the Android team after leaving in 2010.

Android 12L preview.
Enlarge / Android 12L preview.


If Google would like people to take Android tablets seriously, it will require several years of sustained, quality development from Google. At this point, Android tablets mostly get brought up as the butt of jokes. Google will need to work very hard to prove it is serious about tablets and won’t abandon them again when Android 12L isn’t an overnight success. Does Google still have the stomach—and leadership—to make a longterm commitment to a project, even if the first few public releases aren’t successful?

We saw this pattern with Google’s first swing at Android tablets, where Android 3.0 Honeycomb was a big release, and when that was not instantly successful, Android 4.0 was a smaller tablet release. A release or two later, the tablet improvements stopped and the platform was effectively abandoned. We also saw this with smartwatches: Android Wear was not an overnight success after its first launch, and resources were quickly pulled from the project, leading to stagnation for years. Just like tablets, lately, Google has decided that abandoning a core smart device platform wasn’t such a great idea and is now trying to resurrect Android smartwatches.

For both of these projects, it’s not clear if Google is in it for the long haul or if this is just another temporary burst of interest. Meanwhile, Apple is actually in tablets (and smartwatches) for the long haul, and today’s iPads and iPadOS are the result of 12 years of continual iteration and a significant dedication of resources. If Google wants to catch up, it has a long road ahead of it.

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