Android’s long and complicated history with tablets has taken a new, if small, turn: Google has removed the tablet section from the Android.com website.
Yesterday visiting android.com/tablets/ would take you to a page showing a handful of tablets powered by the operating system, some tips for using android on a tablet, and some apps and games optimized for tablet-sized screens.
Update: The website change that sparked a thousand editorials on the death of Android tablets was apparently just a mistake. Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer says the “we had a bug when we updated the site,” and the Android tablets website is now back online.
Then again, as Android Police’s Artem Russakovskii points out, now that the site is back online, it still looks horribly outdated: it features a trio of tablets that were released in 2015.
Original article continues below
By 2011 Google launched the first version of Android that was actually designed for tablets… although Android 3.0 Honeycomb was such a rush job that Google only released the source code for Honeycomb when it launched Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich later that year.
Over the years Google has tweaked the tablet user interface a few times and tried to encourage developers to create apps that take advantage of the larger screens on tablets rather than just showing a smartphone-style UI on a big screen. But developers haven’t really adopted the phone + tablet ecosystem for Android quite as enthusiastically as iOS app developers have for iPhones and iPads.
Companies have released hundreds of tablets (at least) since the first Samsung Galaxy Tab hit the streets. But they’ve long struggled to find their place… particularly as smartphone screens have gotten bigger and iPads have gotten cheaper (prices for the latest iPads start at $329).
Arguably some of the most successful Android tablets aren’t running stock Android software at all: Amazon’s Fire tablets sell for $50 and up and offer a lot of bang for the buck… but they run a heavily modified version of Android called Fire OS and they don’t ship with the Google Play Store pre-installed, using Amazon’s own Appstore instead.
Some companies continue to release high-end Android tablets. Samsung has a few models, and so does Huawei.
This isn’t to say there’s no demand for Android tablets: they certainly fill a niche. Windows tablets have a touch-friendly user interface but there aren’t nearly as many finger-friendly apps in the Microsoft Store as in the Google Play Store. Apple tablets… tend to appeal to folks who like Apple products.
But as someone who has dabbled with Android tablets a lot over the past 8 years, my favorite has probably been the 2017 Amazon Fire HD 8. It has a decent display size and resolution, a reasonably fast processor, and best of all, I picked it up when it was on sale for $50 last year… so I don’t feel bad about the fact that I’ll sometimes go weeks at a time without touching it.
Anyway, Google deemphasizing Android tablets on its website doesn’t mean the company is done with the form factor altogether. All signs point to Google continuing to support tablets… it’s just that Google is shifting its focus to Chrome OS tablets.
Both run Google’s browser-centric Chrome operating system, but they also support the Google Play Store for Android apps. They have a touch-friendly user interface including an app launcher and on-screen keyboard. And they both support pen input as well as fingers.