Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to review the Xperia Z4 Tablet (pictured above) and I found it to be one of the best Android tablets on the market. You know the problem with that, though? That’s not saying much. For a long time now, Google has done close to nothing to make Android a compelling tablet operating system. Oh sure, if you want to play games, read magazines, watch Netflix and movies then Android tablets are fairly decent pieces of hardware. More than that however, and it becomes clear that these are just giant phones with a few gimmicks and oddities here and there. This week, we saw Apple unveil the iPad Pro, and the out-of-touch “bigger is better” approach from Apple this week shows that not even they know what to do with the tablet.
Both that last statement and the title of this piece might come as a shock to some of you, but without Apple we wouldn’t have Android tablets. The iPad, whether we like it or not, made tablets consumer objects, something to be desired and suddenly something that we all needed. The Nexus 7 showed us that these items do not need to be expensive and they can come in all sizes, the problem for Google however is that they don’t know how to do anything but the Nexus 7. Microsoft however, have the Surface. The Surface is not cheap and for a lot of people it’s too big, but the Surface 3 (not the Pro 3) that launched this year is a full-blown PC that’s tablet first, laptop second. It’s an x86 processor that’s quicker than many of the CPUs you’d find in a Chromebook and yet as it runs full Windows it’s quite a lot more useful, and Microsofts own offerings have gotten a lot better now as well.
The iPad Pro is not new, not only did Apple not invent the pencil, but Samsung have been shipping large tablets with excellent pen-input for a long time now. Sure, it’s powerful – find me an Android tablet that can edit three streams of 4K video on set – but it’s basically just bigger. Of course, people who buy Apple will always buy Apple, but for the industry the iPad Pro is a misstep. It brings nothing new to the table, and it won’t save a tablet market that seems to be on pause.
Microsoft seem to be the only company that genuinely offers up a tablet experience that can actually replace your laptop. The iPad Pro runs iOS, not Mac OS X and Android tablets, well. The Nexus 9, Google’s flagship and blueprint for its partners, runs a phone operating system. Sure, this means that Android is consistent across all screen sizes, which is great, but could Google really not offer up something – beyond mouse and keyboard support – that makes an Android tablet feel like more than just a bigger phone? Even first-party apps of Google’s feel like they forgot the tablet exists. Gmail is my favorite experience on the Nexus 9 and the only app I care about that genuinely makes use of the larger display, and that’s a pretty sad statement for myself and Google.
It’s not as if Google don’t have the tools to make something better, either. Imagine a tablet that, when docked, ran Chrome OS? This wouldn’t be a productive environment for everyone, but Chrome OS is very much a desktop operating system and it’s developed on the same campus that Android is. I would rather use Chrome OS with a keyboard and mouse than the stunted version of Chrome Google puts out for Android. Years ago, when tablets ran the hobbled Honeycomb version of Android, tablets like the Motorola Xoom had a quasi-desktop feel to them with a different layout of buttons, but Google threw that out the window with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Now, only Microsoft make a tablet that actually could replace your laptop, and it seems as if Google and partners have given up trying, which is a real shame. Signing in with the same password and getting the same apps and content as my phone makes an Android tablet a great option, but it’s just the exact same thing, just bigger. Bigger is not always better and there’s a reason people across the world are buying larger and larger Android phones, as they get the best of both worlds in one device.
Considering the amount that we use our smartphones for these days, it’s no surprise that a lot of “millennials” and younger users don’t see the need for a laptop anymore, but these users aren’t taking a Nexus 9 or Galaxy Tab to class, to work or on holiday; they’re taking iPads and Surfaces.