At Google I/O this year, Google said they were working with developers and manufacturers to finally give Android apps the tablet-optimized versions they deserve. No more upscaled, wonky UI that leaves a ton of wasted space, blown up phone apps, or things that are just straight up broken and unpleasant to use on an Android tablet.
Which is great, I think everyone can agree Android tablets need a little more love from Google. But is this news going to change anyone’s opinions about Android tablet apps at this point? Or change your mind about the overall state of Android tablets in general?
Android tablets: a bumpy journey
Writing about the history of Android tablets would be a story and a half on its own, but everyone can agree it’s always been weird, especially compared to the wild success that Apple’s iPad line has seen over the previous decade.
Android tablets, at first, really were just big phones. Samsung got on board early by slapping Android 2.2 on a big 7-inch tablet in 2010, and, just in case you forgot how Android Froyo worked back in the day, this was a Very Bad Idea. The UI was clearly not build for these large screens, and TouchWiz really didn’t help matters. Google’s hands off approach got tablets off to a rocky start.
They tried to clean things up with Honeycomb, a version of Android specifically built for tablets, and even dabbled in a semi-successful line of tablets with the Nexus 7. Things started to trend up, but Google still really couldn’t manage to get Android developers on board compared to how they supported Android phones. Apps still just weren’t great, and Google just kinda gave up on trying to right the ship and left Samsung to figure it out. Samsung has done an okay job, but there’s still only so much that can be done, especially when some of the most popular Android tablets are Kindle Fire tabs that don’t even have the Play Store.
The Android tablet landscape has ranged from “not great” to “dumpster fire” over the years, but Google says they’re ready to fix it this time. They’re building and optimizing several of their own apps to better take advantage of bigger screen devices, building from Android 12L’s foldable-first strategy. They’re working with partners like Canva and TikTok to make better tablet apps, and they’re adjusting the Play Store to put these tablet-friendly apps in your face. But at the end of the day, does it matter?
This is long overdue, but high-end Android tablets are not in a great spot right now. Samsung can afford to keep their own unique thing going with the S-Pen as a competitive iPad alternative, but numbers show every year that Apple is still running away with the tablet market. And I mean that literally: Apple claims over 50% of the market, with Samsung floating around 25% and everyone else fighting over that last quarter of the pie. It shows in the quality of apps available on these platforms as well, with iPad apps being both more readily available, supported, and high quality than their Android counterparts.
Android tablets have carved their small niche as large screen devices that are great for typing things up, watching media, and playing a few games. This renewed focus on getting better tablet apps feels too little too late, especially when the energy could be spent making Android foldables a better experience. Google hasn’t lost that market to Apple, and they need to take advantage of that.