Google is in an envious position within the consumer market. Android, Google’s first mobile operating system, dominates the market in its many guises and continued to grow year on year despite competition from other operating systems. A multitude of original equipment manufacturers on the one hand creates fragmentation in the platform but on the other, creates a dynamic and interesting place to be looking for hardware and additional software features. However, in the enterprise market – that is, the market whereby a small cache of individuals pick the devices and applications for a large number of business users – Google’s Android has nowhere near the same penetration as it does in the consumer space. There are several structural reasons for this but they all boil down to the one key point: Google simply has not pushed the Android operating system into the Enterprise space as hard as it could. There are signs that this is changing, although some are hints rather than signs. One comes in the shape of the Google Pixel C, the convertible tablet design that was announced at the end of September.
On the face of it, this is a difficult product to place. The first Google tablet was the now venerable 2012 Google Nexus 7, which was followed by the Nexus 10 towards the end of 2012. In 2013, Google updated the Nexus 7 and replaced it, of a sort, with the Nexus 9 in 2014. The two Nexus 7s are very much consumer-biased tablets, the Nexus 10 was great for media consumption but was not offered with a productivity bias. For the 2014 Nexus 9, Google and HTC offered the Nexus tablet with an attachable keyboard: this is perhaps the first sign that Google were starting to aim the tablet at corporate customers, as adding a keyboard to an Android tablet makes the combination more productive. For 2015, Google added the Pixel C tablet, which takes a Surface look at how a modern tablet can be very well built, including a usable keyboard and high quality components, running stock Google Android. This is clearly a pitch at the device being more productive than previous generations of Nexus tablets, but there is still a weakness in the mix: Android.
I do not subscribe to the view that Android is an unproductive platform, but it can certainly be improved when it comes to working purposes. We are yet to see a creditable Android skin optimized for a laptop-type of machine, although we’ve seen several devices that could have benefited from it. By optimized for a laptop type of device, if you are familiar with Chrome OS and the Chromebook, this sort of arrangement where running applications are showing at the bottom (or side, or top) of the screen. However, Android would also need some reworking to ensure that applications stay running, or are very quickly restored when the application is resumed. However, if an Android device looked like Chrome OS and had a keyboard, would this cannibalize sales of Chromebooks? This is an interesting question: the two operating systems work rather differently and Android has a massive advantage when it comes to third party applications, but Chrome OS is gaining the ability to run Android applications. And we are seeing a name once reserved for Chromebooks being applied to an Android tablet. Is Google planning to merge the two platforms?
In the past, Google has denied this rumor and maintained that the two platforms are different. They are, of course, so perhaps the two operating systems are to orbit one another closer going forwards? And perhaps the glue that will bind these two operating systems together is in the shape of Google’s push into the enterprise area? Apple’s Tim Cook took a recent break from bashing Android security and explained to an enterprise conference that one doesn’t buy a car for enterprise, a briefcase for enterprise or a pen, so why do we expect people to buy a ‘phone for enterprise? Of course, this was a thinly veiled marketing pitch at selling the Apple iPhone, but the point applies equally to Android as it does to iOS. Giving Android the option for a productivity interface could go a long way into making the platform more desirable for all customers.
And then there’s the branding “Pixel,” which was originally applied to a premium Chromebook, then to the follow up and now to a reasonably expensive Android tablet, which costs from $499 without the keyboard, up to $750 for the 64 GB model complete with the keyboard. This is a lot of money for an Android tablet. It’s possible that the Pixel C will include some software features to improve how productive it is by the time it’s launched, but on the face of it the Pixel C isn’t doing anything that the Microsoft Surface devices can’t already do – and could be making a bit of a meal of it too. So perhaps the Pixel C is the start of a different project from Google. Perhaps we have seen the final Nexus smartphones and for 2016, Google will be releasing Pixel-branded smartphones? We may be seeing a Google Pixel C2 this time next year, featuring hardware upgrades to the device. And despite Google’s official explanation, I cannot help but feel that for the Google Nexus 6P, perhaps the “P” stands for “Pixel.”