You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The latest effect Google wants to provide is that Android will power the wave of big-screen devices to come. Aside from the announcements, the biggest sign of Google’s commitment to this effort is Android 12L, a version of the mobile OS exclusively for foldables and tablets. It was launched earlier this month, but it has so far been only a drop in the ocean and seems like a big miss for Google to see where Android is headed.
Why ‘Android Foldables’ and ‘Android Tablets’
Google’s interest in the big screen has two parts. If foldables are indeed the new premium in future smartphones, Google will have to ensure that Android is the de facto operating system for that new class in order to maintain its position as the world’s most popular operating system. This includes making sure it’s easy for OEMs to build devices that are good enough to justify an upgrade from slab-style smartphones, which are already excellent enough. New form factors are hard to come by and represent what could be the last new category for many years before foldable AR smart glasses.
This ease also extends to making it easier for developers to create customized applications for both external phone screens and larger internal displays. In turn, they are customized experiences that will justify the foldability for the end users. Everyone loves a big screen, which allows a foldable to be portable, but it just can’t be about watching a movie or playing games on the big display. From productivity to multitasking, people can do new things with this type of device.
Meanwhile, the tablet is Google’s second big screen. Foldables appear to be something OEM partners are making a big push for, while Google is clearly the driver for tablets, which it claims will be the form factor “the future of computing.” The company expects tablet sales to eventually overtake laptops, and this is a tremendous opportunity for Android to gain an OS foothold in the space between smartphones and laptops.
For Google, the greater portability of tablets than laptops allows for more use cases. When paired with the inclusion of an always-simple touchscreen that can be further enhanced by a stylus, guaranteed rear-facing camera, and even cellular connectivity, “tablet-first” apps and users abound. should be able to.
Why Android 12L
Android 12L is a modern attempt by Google to make the user experience “simple and easy to use” on tablets and foldables. Two-column layouts, which are one of the easiest ways to take advantage of a bigger screen, are everywhere from the lockscreen and notification shade to settings. Meanwhile, a taskbar assists with and encourages multitasking. The latter serves to make the big-screen Android experience more uniform across OEMs, while the former is much more instructive for developers to stop creating stretched apps.
As the name suggests, the 12L is derived from Android 12. For modern-day Android, it’s an out-of-cycle release that Google has clearly decided to brand and make a bigger screen. It launched earlier this month, but Google really has nothing to show for it and is remarkably awkward for a big push.
For starters, none of the Google apps have been updated with a better tablet experience in the past few weeks. As I’ve described, first-party tablet apps have a pretty low status. There are still plenty of extended phone apps out there when a two-pane UI should be minimal. Meanwhile, there are only a handful of apps that have really been repurposed for tablets, and they all date back a few years.
This sorry state of affairs stands in stark contrast to the successful adoption of content you’ll find in Google’s biggest app just in time for the launch of Android 12 on the Pixel last fall. The company has been very capable of rolling out the redesign on a large scale. It is not clear why something like this was not mandatory to match with the 12L. It’s important to remember that app updates benefit all existing tablet users and may encourage them to upgrade their hardware to reap the full benefits.
Meanwhile, a more basic failsafe is that the final release of Android 12L isn’t on any of the current big-screen hardware. Instead, Google was only able to announce that updates from Samsung, Lenovo and Microsoft would begin this year.
Google and partners may surprise us with faster updates, but let’s take Samsung as an example. The OEM just recently launched a trio of new flagship tablets running Android 12, while it has started updating the older models. If the 12L was in the books from the first quarter to the first half of this year, why not wait to deliver new hardware with a fresh feel. In the Android space, it’s not like flagship tablets, unlike smartphones, which are the main driver of the manufacturer’s revenue. Imagine how much Google’s new push into tablets would have resonated if it had launched with hardware from the biggest OEMs. Such a phenomenon isn’t really a stretch, considering how Google is already directly marketing the Fold 3 and Flip 3 with its customized apps.
Of course, there is an option for Samsung to hold off on its big tablet launch.
why not pixel
Google historically aligns the Fall Android and Pixel launches. As such, it’s a great shame that there was no first-party hardware with the release of Android 12L. Rumors of a Pixel foldable have been doing the rounds for quite some time and the 12L seemed like an ideal time to announce such a device. At the most basic level, the Pixel hardware would have allowed people to actually use the 12L on a bigger screen at launch. This is literally not possible today and will not happen until “by the end of this year”.
That said, there are a number of possible reasons why the foldable Pixel hasn’t launched yet, from cost and feature competition to a form factor that presents real design difficulties.
However, those arguments don’t extend to why Google hasn’t made a first-party tablet yet. Since the inception of Made by Google, the hardware division hasn’t made Android-powered tablets. Only the Pixel Slate was running Chrome OS and the subsequent decision not to launch a pair of smaller tablets that also ran the operating system.
Google’s last big screen Android device was the Pixel C in 2015. Android’s failure on the really big screen in the late 2010s made for an unwritten arrangement that Chrome OS would power the form factor (and could have started with the Pixel in a different universe). The renewed interest in tablets, especially those with dockable keyboards, has clearly changed that perception and it’s time for Google to try again.
Unfortunately, there have been zero rumors about such a device, with the current speculation being that Tensor will debut on a Pixelbook next year. It’s a hopeless situation, and the need for such hardware to act as a flag bearer for Google’s renewed tablet ambitions.
Why is this just a preface
Today, Android 12L is just a downpayment for Google’s grand ambitions in the foldable and tablet space. The company is using the 12L to show OEM partners and app developers alike that it’s serious about the bigger screen, but that too could have been handled better with first-party action.
The situation you have now is that people are hearing about Google’s commitment to the big screen, but haven’t actually been able to try it out on an emulator or beyond the Lenovo Developer Preview. Let’s say updates to first-party apps are meant as an incentive and guide for third-party developers while OEMs begin releasing 12L updates on existing tablets. At this point, people will see that Google is finally addressing the expanded apps problem, while current tablet owners get a new OS and improve day-to-day usage to promote word of mouth. Google’s commitment to truly first-party hardware is to clearly tell you which new Android tablet to get.
Android 12L should be launched with (first or third-party) hardware, updates to existing tablets/foldables, and app redesigns. Rather, Google only has an announcement to show off the latest version of its OS. This greatly reduces momentum and could be a promising push to pieces.
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