An update to the Android product spotlight website on May 31st resulted in the complete removal of the Tablets section. Naturally, this development prompted the tech press to declare Android tablets dead. This pronouncement was complicated somewhat following a tweet by Android senior vice president, Hiroshi Lockheimer, indicating that the removal was the result of a bug that occurred during a website update. The Tablets section reappeared in short order, though it retained the same aging content as before it was removed.
Despite the reappearance of the Tablets section, the premise that Android tablets are dead is not particularly far from true. Google's own website still advertises the Nvidia Shield K1, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0, and Sony Xperia Tablet X4, all of which are from 2015. All of these have long since disappeared from retail channels.
Google's last tablet—the Pixel C—was also released in December 2015, and has no indication of a successor being announced. The Pixel C, as well as the Nexus Player, were notably excluded from the Developer Preview Program for Android P. This absence has led to speculation that Google's hardware division, now led by ex-Motorola executive Rick Osterloh, has lost interest in developing Android devices other than phones. This situation was magnified at Google I/O when a reference device for Android TV was given away to developers due to the lack of any other eligible device that runs the new version of Android.
SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)
While OEMs are continuing to make Android tablets, these have been relatively few and far between. The most prolific maker is Huawei, though this is only partially relevant for the US, as availability of Huawei products has been somewhat uneven given recent political turmoil.
Lenovo and ASUS also have relatively recent Android tablets available, though these are not powered by flagship SoCs. In all likelihood, the most common Android tablets users are likely to encounter are those in Amazon's Kindle Fire range, which are not suitable for productivity or business use cases for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the absence of the Play Store.
While the tablet form factor is unlikely to go away anytime soon, Android on tablets is not a paradigm likely to continue significantly longer. Acer's (incomprehensibly named) Chromebook Tab 10 is positioned squarely against Apple for the education market, while HP's detachable Chromebook x2 combines the productivity angles of Chromebooks, with the flexibility of a tablet, as well as a Wacom sensor for pen input.
Google's relatively tight control over the Chrome device ecosystem also precludes these devices from premature obsolescence resulting from a lack of Android version updates, while the addition of Android app support in ChromeOS bridges the gap between browser terminal—which Chromebooks were, originally—and a device at least theoretically capable of productivity.
Professionals who rely on an Android tablet to get work done don't necessarily need to get rid of it right away, but it may be time to consider other options. And the strong investment Google is placing in Chromebooks make them a solid alternative.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Google's Android website accidentally removed the tablet section, but it was later reinstated. However, none of the tablets Google promotes on the website are even available anymore.
- Chrome OS devices have supplanted Android tablets in function, if not in name, especially among enterprise users.
- Special report: Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Weird Google bug? Android users baffled by search that lists personal text messages (ZDNet)
- Android P: Cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Google now blocks uncertified Android devices from using its core apps (ZDNet)
- Android P will not support these Nexus and Pixel devices (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.