The Google Pixel C is a $499 tablet with a high-resolution display, an optional detachable keyboard, and Android software. But it’s possible the tablet wasn’t always meant to ship with Android.

Shortly before Google officially introduced the tablet, we learned that it was likely-named Ryu, and as I noted at the time, that’s the same name as a Chrome OS system Google started working with in mid-2014.

Now there’s even more evidence that the Pixel C was originally supposed to ship with Chrome OS, but that Google later opted to ship the tablet with Android instead.

pixel c

It’s been confirmed that Ryu is the code-name for the Pixel C’s software branch, and Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo takes on a tour of the history of Ryu.

When we first saw the name, it was firmly associated with the source code for Chrome OS. But earlier this year Google started adding Android source code. This could have been a sign that Google was planning on delivering the Pixel C as a tablet that could dual-boot Android and Chrome OS.

Since Android is optimized for touchscreens and Chrome Os is optimized for notebook-style use, this would have offered the best of both worlds… at least until Chrome OS becomes more touch-friendly and/or Android gains more Chrome OS features such as support for multi-window apps and Chrome browser extensions.

But Google eventually abandoned the “frankenboard” approach.

That leads us to the product Google actually started shipping this week: a Pixel C tablet that runs pretty much the same software available for Nexus phones and tablets… minus a few features. The Pixel team acknowledged that some features weren’t ready to go at launch, so they’ll be coming later. That includes “OK Google” hotword detection when the screen is off… and eventually support for multi-window apps.

Amadeo’s conclusion is that with Google bringing Android and Chrome OS closer together, the company didn’t want to ship a premium, first-of-its kind Chrome OS tablet that could be used with or without a keyboard. So the company used its existing touch-friendly software instead… even if it’s not really optimized for laptop-style use yet.

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16 replies on “Maybe the Pixel C was originally meant to run Chrome OS”

  1. I’ve never understood the notion of paying over the top for a tablet. iOS or Android, I dropped Google like a hot potato when it brought the expensive replacement to the Nexus 7 out, I’ve never even seen one in the wild.

    For me, if I’m faced with a choice between a £99 or £499 tablet, when the £99 one can get me through the day on battery, probably has MicroSD (the other probably not) and runs all the very SAME APPS, why spend more? What extra am I really getting for that additional £400?

    1. You’d definitely have to use one to understand. There’s a big difference in the build quality and feel of $99 vs. say even $200 tablets. The screen feels better, touching it is more fluid, the CPU and RAM allow for quicker use, etc.

      Using an iPad for example, is a really great experience because all your clicks and apps opening up all “flow” – it’s a really fluid experience. Ultimately, I never bothered with an iPad because the price has never, ever been justified for me. Android tablets don’t offer such a fluid experience usually, but a really good tradeoff because 1. they’re generally hundreds cheaper and 2. you can do stuff on them that you could not (before iOS 9) on an iPad, like customize your background with live wallpapers and use widgets to display info. These were all things for me that worked as a sacrifice for a completely “fluid” experience.

      So for the extra $xxx, in general cases, if it really is worth it, you’re getting enough CPU, RAM and Storage to give you a fluid experience on really, really light hardware. Some people are willing to pay upwards of that for all of this. I personally, want this for less $, but I am definitely willing to go up to a certain amount for it because it’s worth it. I could never really use a $99 tablet as my daily driver because in the majority of scenarios, they end up lacking something. Amazon has a good example of GOOD cheap tablets, but they for me would be lacking something essential to me, ie: Google Now.

      1. Firstly I must admit, I’m a former Apple user so I’ve had a couple of generations of iPads. I have also had a number of Android tablets – expensive and better value/budget ones (I don’t want to say cheap as it implies cut corners or inferiority). There is not much between the platforms except one is highly controlled (the iOS ‘walled garden’) and the other is supposed to be open (except Google are closing it off a piece at a time and are essentially a data mining firm). But seeing as Apple are only in the high price bracket, let’s exclude them from the conversation.

        In the Android ‘spectrum’ of tablets, there is little variation in real terms for the price, in fact it could be argued there is even feature redaction (MicroSD expansion for example). To your point on fluidity, Android has been more fluid on low-spec hardware since Jelly Bean. Most devices offer 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage and around the 2GHz mark CPU, give or take a bit. They are all manufactured in the same conditions, they all use the same or similar spec components. A capacitive touch screen ‘feels’ the same regardless of cost, only panel resolution is the difference. I don’t care about resolution, as long as the text is not pixel-y. Ultimately, it just comes down to whether the device is assembled well and is robust enough, even on a budget device. On expensive machines you may find metal and glass, but you are paying over the top for it. There is zero advantage at the high end in terms of capability, with roughly similar specs they all run the very same apps and run them very well, the low cost Kindle will run KOTOR, Riptide 2 or Real Racing just as capably as the most expensive tablet.

        I have to be honest, I really stopped using Google services about a year ago, and I switched to Windows PC tablet/hybrid machines because they suited my needs better than a mobile OS and apps could. But I did originally only buy Android apps via Amazon so I’ve just bought a Kindle Fire for £34.99, it is a good example of how to make ‘value’ tablets, the only problem with it is the 8GB of storage instead of the usual 16GB.

  2. Okay, they’re as bad as Apple and Samsung. And don’t get me wrong, with my far more functional T100 that’s half the price, I’ve never seen the point in high priced ARM-based tablets.

    But having said that, Android is more than well catered for when it comes to cheap tablets – for Google, it makes more sense to put out a premium device (similar to the way MS keep the Surfaces as premium devices rather than trying to compete on price with their own OEMs). At least they’re not pricing it at Surface Pro prices…

    I agree it’s a shame that there doesn’t seem an obvious successor to the Nexus 7 2013, even from other OEMs (devices I’ve found seem to be either significantly more expensive; or cheaper and worse specs even though it’s now 2 years on). OTOH I have far less need for a 7″ tablet now my phone is larger and more powerful, and I’m probably not the only one… and I don’t think that’s an argument against this Pixel device.

    1. I agree with you, and I do understand that. But, as per the message I left to alsosavagemike, I believe that they could have adjusted the parts to be more of a reasonably premium device vs. what they’ve ended up with. Check out the Zenpad S 8.0 and then give me 1 good reason to get the Pixel C – and if it’s the keyboard, keep in mind that I personally would never, ever buy a $150 keyboard for an Android tablet. I’m not sure who would and will and I understand the whole different strokes for different folks deal, but yeah – forget the 7″, you’re perfectly right that 8 or higher makes more sense nowadays.

      If I could easily compare the Pixel C to a surface, then that would make sense. I simply cannot. The surface sports a much better CPU, more RAM and runs Windows apps. The Pixel C still just runs Android apps. If it could run Chrome OS as well, then the price may also be justifiable. The Surface also feels more comfortable in certain situations with a keyboard and trackpad because Windows will be Windows. By that I mean that the split of Windows geared toward touchscreen is still new to most people and they still tend to get around easier and better with keyboard and mouse. I’m now used to both. With Android, however, the only thing I ever feel like getting on a keyboard for is when I’m on a site like this making a comment or on some social site. Definitely not going to pay $150 in addition to $500 to get a keyboard to carry around with my Pixel C just for that.

      The device is just a difficult sell for me. I can see some people getting it, after all I’m sure folks out there got that $1300 Chromebook Pixel. But for me, I can’t see something like the Zenpad S 8.0 and then just swallow the idea of the Pixel C for a $200 premium and be like, totally worth it! Really hoping they’ll do a great Nexus device next year or a Pixel B or something.

  3. I don’t understand why everyone is surprised by a $500 Android tablet. I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of Samsung but they have been selling Android tablets in the $500 and over range for years now.

    1. That is Samsung. I’m not interested in Samsung, per se. They’re as bad as Apple when it comes to overpriced hardware. Their saving grace is that their devices are chock full of thoughtful, extra software features (and in the past, hardware features like IR blaster, SD card, etc.) I’m not complaining about the loss of SD as I primarily keep stuff in the cloud and I have unlimited 4G anyway.

      Personally however, I want something that gets updates ASAP so I have never been interested in Samsung for anything else that phones because I use TMobile Jump and when I’m tired of waiting for Android 6 on my Note 4, I’ll just switch to something else.

      I have been doing the Nexus tablet since day 1. I had the Tegra based, original Nexus 7 and I got the Nexus 7 FHD after that. I skipped the Nexus 9 because the 7 was fine. Now that I’m ready to get something, the 9 is aged and from quite a few reviews, very flawed and the Pixel C is way, way more than I need and at that price, I’m not interested. So my only options are to 1. Get the aged 9, 2. Settle with the 7 for another year, 3. Go with something else entirely. Not good options. For that price, I may as well switch to the dark side and grab an iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4.

      1. I’m just saying a $500 price tag is not new at this size. The Nexus 10 was close to this price on release wasn’t it?
        I know what you are saying. I wish it was cheaper too as I would like a nice tablet but don’t do enough with it to budget that high. But the Pixel C just isn’t it. That said I don’t think it is priced that bad given what it is.
        I’m probably going to end up with an 8″, if anything. Though I’ve actually thought of getting an Asus Chromebook flip as well. I think I could get by as well with the dekstop class browser as with the apps. And I really like ChromeOS as far as maintenance and ease of use.
        For Android though the Nvidia Shield tablet was just re-released at $200. That will probably be updated shortly. Nvidia is usually good about that.
        I know if I do go Android I’m not buying anything under Marshmallow. I want me some of that revamped permissions model.
        I too have though about an ipad mini.

        1. It’s not just that it would be nice if it were cheaper, I’m trying to understand where they’re coming from with the device at all. The specs are somewhat there to justify the price in the Tegra X1 and 10″ almost 2K screen. I don’t see a market for it in Android users. I see myself as the typical Android user so I’m basing this on myself.

          I’d have been fine with all that with a more modest CPU and Full HD screen in a 8″ (if these indeed drop the price) for $299. $500 would have been fine 2 years ago but this year, some really great 10″ tablets are around with albeit lower end specs but that’s just it, if my 7 FHD works well then these specs work well too.

          As an example, The Asus Zenpad S 8.0. This is priced perfectly imho for the specs and the features match what I envision most Android users need or want. Let’s say there’s someone wants 10, alright, then we’ll make believe there’s a Zenpad S 10 for $100 more. Now let’s make believe that Instead, the Pixel C offered a similar product called, I dunno, the Nexus 8 and Nexus 10 2015. Device with similar if not the same specs as the Zenpad S 8 and imaginary 10 but at more reasonable prices.

          And if you’re asking, “why don’t you get the Zenpad S” it’s because as I mentioned, I want something that does guaranteed updates from Google, otherwise the Zenpad would be on my desk right now.

  4. Yes, they’ve stupidly gone and captured 50% of the coveted US education market in just a few years. Idiots!

    1. LOL ‘coveted’.

      One sector in ONE country, wow – earth shattering!
      The majority of Chromebook/box sales are to the US education sector, based on subsidy and poor decision making. Windows 8 and now 10 machines are now equally priced or cheaper and deliver a better range of functionality, software and apps for kids… as well as the browser.

      As for general uptake, Chrome OS as is – is dead. I and many others bought Chromebooks when they became a bit of a fad two years ago, how many of them people are still using them? Everyone I know who bought one eventually sold them, myself included.

  5. ChromeOS is open source, right? Can we not just check out the code from the repo and install ChromeOS on it?

  6. If chrome os ran android apps I think they’d have something there..it was dumb to build an os around a web browser..

  7. There was a time I lambasted Apple for producing $500 tablets when just about everyone was able to make perfectly useful and even wonderful $200 tablets running Android.

    Well now I’m just speechless. $499 for an Android tablet, made by Google. Ugh. Why? This is why I believe that this is a Chrome OS device gone wrong as well. The intent seems to have been there to make this a Google designed rival to the other Chrome OS sporting devices…and while the price is a few hundred into the premium, the fact that it has touch capability somewhat justifies this. Nothing however, justifies an Android tablet, albeit with a physical keyboard, being sold for $499. I’m in the market for a tablet this year since my Nexus 7 FHD is feeling it’s age (not with speed, but I suspect the battery is on the outs), but I’m not spending more than $300 for an Android tablet – and I have expectations, 32GB (or higher) storage, 3-4GB RAM, IPS 7-8.9 inch screen at the very least. I’m not touching one unless it’s a Nexus or made by Google because I want updates.

  8. I don’t necessarily disagree that it might have been intended for ChromeOS initially. I rather think it was.
    However his reasoning is questionable. Right off the bat he starts with the ‘Pixel’ is for ChromeOS stuff and ‘Nexus’ is for Android stuff malarkey. This has been debunked completely at this point. ‘Pixel’ is designed completely in-house by Google. ‘Nexus’ is co-designed/manufactured with a partner.
    This was actually re-iterated again by the Pixel team in the recent Reddit AMA.
    Also – the notion that work was stopped and abandoned on touch input for ChromeOS will be a big shock to Asus given the excellent flipbook they sell with ChromeOS. It has gotten very solid reviews for the touch implementation in tablet mode.

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