Google, the company with the shortest attention span in tech, has once again tired of tablets. According to Business Insider:
“For Google’s first-party hardware efforts, we’ll be focusing on Chrome OS laptops and will continue to support Pixel Slate.”
Translation: The Slate is a dead device walking.
The company’s wavering interest in tablets isn’t anything new. Google started by releasing the Honeycomb version of Android, which was built to take advantage of the larger screen of a tablet, back in 2011. Unfortunately, the hardware they were dealing with, notably the Motorola Xoom, was less than ideal and really didn’t match up well with the iPad.
In what I always thought was a smart move, Google released their own branded tablet hardware with the Nexus 7 in 2012. The relatively inexpensive slate was powerful enough to run Android, was relatively portable and just offered a much better user experience than other Android tablets. Then Google released a 2013 version that was even better. I really enjoyed the 2nd Gen Nexus 7, a I had one for around a year. It didn’t replace my iPad, as I used it for different things, but it was a fine device in its own right. The 7 is one of the few Android devices that I’ve owned or tried that I legitimately liked.
Unfortunately, Google never got the bigger screen tablet right. I briefly owned a Nexus 10 and it was quite honestly one of the worst pieces of hardware that I’ve ever owned. While the 7″ screen was adequate for most Android apps, the 10″ didn’t work well AT ALL. And while the Nexus 7 had pretty good build quality and felt good in the hand, the 10 was literally covered in loose, ill-fitting rubber. Just awful.
Despite the warm reception of the Nexus 7 and decent sales, Google never released another one. Considering that they hit on a device that was at least a critical success, it was hard to understand why they just stopped making them, but the 2nd Gen model was the end of the line for the best tablet Google ever made.
There was the Nexus 9 that came out in 2014. I tried one briefly and it was certainly a big improvement on the crappy Nexus 10. However, the app situation was pretty much the same and the price tag went way up, so the value just wasn’t there with this model. It went back to the store quickly.
After the Nexus 9, Google just went off the tablet deep end. The Pixel C was a strange, clunky and forgettable Android device that had little impact. Then we got the Pixel Slate last year, which ran Chrome OS instead of Android. This new device was interesting and different. It was a convertible hybrid that looked like it was aimed as much at the Surface Pro as the iPad Pro. However, while the hardware design was interesting, the software just wasn’t quite there. Again. Considering the high price tag of the Slate and the quality of the more established competition, it was pretty much doomed when it didn’t launch ready for prime time.
So this looks like the end of the road for Google’s tablets. According to Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh on Twitter:
Hey, it’s true…Google’s HARDWARE team will be solely focused on building laptops moving forward, but make no mistake, Android & Chrome OS teams are 100% committed for the long-run on working with our partners on tablets for all segments of the market (consumer, enterprise, edu)
— Rick Osterloh (@rosterloh) June 20, 2019
Translation: Just because we don’t care about tablets anymore doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. We’ll still support you…..probably.
Unfortunately, Google wasn’t done dabbling until recently. They actually confirmed that they recently killed off two other tablet projects. However, with their lack of legitimate interest and inability to see a project through, it’s hard to believe any other Google tablet would have had better success.
While I love the iPad, I do think this is unfortunate. Google showed with the Nexus 7 that they could produce a really nice tablet when properly engaged and motivated. I actually like Chrome OS and I thought the Slate hardware was interesting a little different. I would love to have seen Google put more time and effort into making it a more complete and competitive device. More competition is a good thing.
The one positive is that Google will continue to make Pixelbook laptops that run Chrome OS. The Pixelbook is a really nice, if expensive, piece of hardware. It certainly isn’t a tablet, but it does have a touchscreen and should help to move touch in Chrome OS forward over time. At least Google didn’t throw that hardware over, but I have to believe that we have seen the last tablet from them.