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Adstoppi Blog | Google keeps failing to understand tablets

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What is a tablet? What is a tablet supposed to be and do? Nine years ago, these questions were foremost in debates about new technology, as Apple was preparing to introduce its first iPad and rival companies were rushing to beat it to the punch. CES 2010 gave us one answer in the form of the 8.9-inch HP Slate, a Windows 7 PC running on an Intel Atom processor. A few weeks later, Apple’s iPad made its debut with a 9.7-inch screen and mobile chips and software. And then a year after that, Google released a version of Android called Honeycomb that was tailored specifically for tablets.

No one understood tablets back then; everyone was guessing. Apple originally envisioned the iPad as the glossy magazine equivalent of Amazon’s Kindle. The iPad would be more interactive, it would have apps, but a major part of its appeal was supposed to come from “digital magazines” and comic books created for the platform. Publishers quickly found that idea too costly to sustain, and Apple discovered people were using the iPad for many other purposes as well. The company’s initial reluctance to offer a stylus or a keyboard has since turned into multiple generations of keyboard covers and Apple Pencils. Apple’s iPad development has been characterized by learning, adapting, and evolving.

What has Google done in that time? Well, the Mountain View company has taken over the smartphone world with Android, so there’s that. But translating that operating system (OS) to tablets has been a tragic, chronic failure for Google. The Motorola Xoom and Xyboard, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the 13-inch Toshiba Excite, and a litany of others from Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and Google have shown promise only to ultimately disappoint. Android on tablets has only ever been somewhat appealing on a couple of 7-inch devices — the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab — and on task-specific tablets like Amazon’s Fire HD and Nvidia’s Shield Tablet, both of which are more about the content than the OS.

The reason for Android’s failure as a tablet OS should be obvious. Android is made for smartphones. Its system requirements are aligned with a smartphone’s capabilities, its app library is made to fit a smartphone’s screen, and all of its core usability features are built for a smartphone’s vertical orientation. Granted, phone displays have kept growing over the past decade, but they’re likely to find their ceiling right around the point where they reach the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab’s dimensions. Android is not infinitely expandable.

Putting Android on a 10-inch (or larger) tablet makes as much sense as trying to find clothes for Yao Ming in a regular store. Sure, you might dig up some scarves, ties, and belts that are a fit, but most things will be a total mismatch. Google got that message after its series of embarrassing flops. But instead of going to a tailor, the company just started looking in the clown costume aisle with its Chrome OS, as exhibited by the distinctly doofy Pixel Slate.

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