Android has become a versatile and well-respected platform over the past decade or so, but when it comes to anything other than Smartphones, Google’s OS suddenly doesn’t look so shiny any more. Android tablets have been floundering for some time now, and while there are excellent options out there like the Xperia Z4 Tablet, Google needs to do something about their tablet situation quickly, lest Microsoft completely overtake them with the Surface to take second place behind the iPad. While there are excellent pieces of hardware out there – and more coming – along with some brilliant tablet apps, the majority of Android tablets simply feel like giant phones. Considering that a lot of users have a device with a display around the 5.5-inch mark, a larger phone just isn’t going to cut it much longer. To succeed in the tablet market, Google should look inward, to Chrome OS.
Chromebooks have been doing very well for Google, and in the US at least they’ve taken the Education market by storm. People look upon these inexpensive devices as “not real laptops”, which is now a ridiculous way to view them. Sure, “proper” Photoshop doesn’t run on a Chromebook, but neither does an Android tablet run such high-end software. Chrome OS is a Desktop environment, and while it’s one that relies on the Internet to be of any use, it is a Desktop. The Chrome browser on Android is, by comparison, just not good enough. With a Chromebook, I can get work done to a high standard, thanks to the fact that I’m browsing the web as I would be on my Mac back at the office, I cannot do the same on an Android tablet, even with a fancy keyboard dock.
Imagine an Android tablet that, when docked would run Chrome OS. Considering the two are tightly integrated with Google services, your Drive settings, Docs and Gmail would instantly carry over into a Desktop-oriented session, and we’ve seen Chrome OS run Android apps before. This would give users the best of both worlds, and the best thing of all is that ARM processors can be used to run Chrome OS fully, so there’s no need for a fan or a hungry x86 processor. Google have all of the services lined up; Drive, Gmail, Docs, the Play Store and so on. Tablets designed by Google and their partners need to do more than their smartphones do, and in the majority of cases that’s not how it works.
Take the Nexus 9 for instance, I bought one at launch, and I loved the 4:3 display and the overall feel of the hardware, but it’s just a giant phone. Sure, this means I get the same sort of experience on my phone as I do my tablet, but then using the same logic anything I can do on my tablet, I can do on my phone. Even first-party apps from Google don’t take great advantage of the larger display, Gmail is one of the best tablet apps on Android and yet, the Desktop website is still better. A tablet that runs Chrome OS would be able to give users that little bit extra. It’s not just Gmail, either. Google Drive and Docs work great on Chromebooks, they’re speedy, optimized and there’s never a need to hit the Save key. This sort of simple, efficient computing is exactly what a thin and light device – like a tablet – should be capable of doing.
The Pixel C, pictured above, is an excellent piece of hardware and it probably does have a great typing experience as Google say it does, but the browser is stunted and I can only run one app at a time. How much work, or even entertainment, can I really get done with such a machine? Android has all of the apps and games that consumers love, and yet the Chromebook has access to valuable software that people use daily to get work done, so why not bring the two together and take the fight to both Microsoft and Apple?