Google’s tablet ambitions were no secret. The recently teased Pixel tablet is just the latest in Google’s long line of attempts to crack the elusive smart slate market. However, instead of taking the same formulaic approach for tablets, Google seems to be building something completely different.
By positioning the Pixel tablet as a competent tablet that is also the center of your smart home, Google gives it a unique selling proposition. That’s why I’m convinced that this is Google’s best chance to make its tablet a mainstream success.
Would a smart display dock option (adding a speaker and power) make the Pixel tablet more appealing to you?
Tablets are a luxury, and smart home integration can make them more useful
Ryan Haines/Android Authority
I’ve tried many tablets over the years. While I loved the Nexus 7’s tiny profile, the bite-sized tablet rarely, if ever, left my desk. I would use it occasionally to check RSS feeds or catch up on social media. I’ve used it to stream video content on occasion, but mostly it just sat there until it ran out of charge. When it finally came time to put it aside, I struggled to find a use case that would justify getting a different tablet.
Years later, my iPad Air mostly does the same thing. I use it as a secondary display to glance at to-do lists or browse RSS feeds. When I’m feeling a little adventurous, I slap it on the Magic Keyboard case I’ve spent too much money on and work at a coffee shop. Most of the time, however, it never leaves my home. I’m not alone in this.
According to surveys, most users rarely take their tablets outdoors.
According to a recent report, only 12% of users take their tablets outside of the home. Google repeats much of this on its Pixel tablet teaser page. Tablet usage is understandably dramatically lower than smartphone usage, and with phone screens reaching the proportions of mini-tablets, carrying two devices around doesn’t make sense for most people. Meanwhile, the advent of foldable smartphones is expected to further drive down the use of dedicated tablets.
Additionally, tablets are often shared accessories, and it is not uncommon for a tablet to be shared among multiple family members in a household. By positioning the Pixel tablet as a core smart home accessory rather than a personal tablet, Google is clearly targeting a much broader audience. All the more so at a time when global tablet demand is slowing.
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Positioning a tablet as a smart home center is not a completely new approach. Amazon has been marketing its Fire tablets as pseudo-echo show devices for a long time. It’s a functional approach, but the overall experience can leave a lot to be desired. Similarly, Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered Smart Tab M10 serves as a smart display. However, a budget tablet rarely enables quality ambient computing experiences.
A tablet as a smart home hub isn’t a new idea, but the Pixel tablet will likely do better.
The doubling of the tablet as the central smart hub device gives the Pixel tablet a unique dual purpose, and much of that is down to Google’s implementation. Unlike Lenovo and Amazon, Google is clearly building the Pixel tablet as a premium smart display, which might be its key differentiator.
For one thing, the speaker and charging station provide significantly better audio capabilities. While most tablets sit in a corner or on a table, the Pixel tablet uses its high-quality display on its dock to show off images from your Google Photos library – while it’s charging. And that is just the beginning. The combination of powerful internals and a full-fledged operating system should give scope for many more interesting experiences.
The combination of powerful internals and a full-fledged operating system should enable high-end ambient computing experiences.
If you’re anything like me, your tablet is probably sitting on a coffee table or bookshelf. I often find that the charge runs out when I really need it. Giving the Pixel tablet a solid home base and more uses around the house would solve both of those problems.
It’s all about the form factor
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Interestingly, I’ve often wanted to pick up the Nest Hub next to my desk. Its instant accessibility, home control-focused display, and decent array of speakers make it infinitely more useful than a tablet to me. Add in a web browser and support for basic apps and the Nest Hub would cover most of the use cases I need a tablet for. Apparently someone at Google had the same train of thought.
The Pixel tablet’s dock-based form factor encourages accessibility and intermittent access.
The Pixel tablet and its docking station are clearly designed for reachability and intermittent access. Pick it up when you need to adjust the smart lights and put it back on the dock. Pick it up from the speaker whenever you want some Netflix and chill time, then return to the charger.
Also, as much as I love the Nest Hub, I’ve found it hard to justify placing multiple units in my connected home. The Pixel tablet’s smart-home leanings immediately make it easy for me to sell it. Being able to carry it with me through different living spaces makes it far more useful as a smart hub, and I’m willing to bet many others would be happy to pay a premium for it.
The modular approach is ideal for those who want to declutter and solve two problems with one device.
I don’t know about you, but I’m all for reducing the clutter in my living space, and between my Nest Hub and my tablet, I know which one is more useful. Combine the two and you have the perfect modular approach.
Fills a medium sized gap in the market
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Google’s approach of solving two problems with one solution has a distinct additional benefit. The global tablet market sits on opposite ends of the spectrum. Apple’s iPad portfolio is clearly aimed at a premium audience. However, the highest sales figures are usually in the segment of barebones and budget tablets. There’s a medium-sized gap in the market that Samsung has been trying to fill without serving any real purpose, and the Pixel tablet can be a head turner – just like the Pixel 7.
The Pixel tablet could easily fill the gap between Samsung’s premium tablets and a variety of budget options.
The Pixel tablet could encourage buyers to move beyond budget tablets. It doesn’t claim to be a high-end, professionally-oriented machine, and it doesn’t have to be. A professional tablet is just a high-end Netflix device without a compelling professional app ecosystem – something the Android tablet ecosystem struggles with. The only reason Samsung’s high-end Galaxy Tabs stand out is because of Samsung’s software ecosystem. The Pixel tablet is instead about giving the audience what they want. Focusing on the mundane, everyday use cases gives it the opportunity to be different where it matters.
Looking at the wider Pixel lineup, it’s clear that Google likes to play between the mid-range and high-end. If Google can replicate the same pricing strategy with the Pixel tablet, it could have a winner.
Despite its dual purpose design, the Pixel tablet has to nail the price to have any chance of success.
Google’s hardware strategy shows that it’s content to sit in the sub-flagship tablet space. By using the same Tensor G2 processor as the Pixel 7 smartphones, it can take advantage of economies of scale and use the same intelligent machine learning capabilities that its phones have excelled at. Similarly, the large bezels, polycarbonate construction, and lack of multiple cameras all point to a device that’s built for a price. In my opinion, that’s the right approach to give the Pixel tablet any chance of success.
The timing works great too. Previous tablet efforts suffered from a lack of software designed from the ground up for a big screen. Google needs the Pixel Tablet to be a top-notch Android-based tablet; It’s already claiming that the Pixel tablet will be the best way to experience Android on a big screen. Hopefully, with Android 12L’s tablet-focused tweaks, it should have the software needed to back up that claim.
The Pixel tablet is Google’s best (last) chance to make a mark in the tablet space
From what we know about the Pixel tablet so far, it looks like Google’s product team finally got the memo. Marrying the Pixel tablet with the brand awareness of the Nest ecosystem and a secondary use case makes a budget product all the more appealing.
Brand awareness of the Nest ecosystem could give the Pixel tablet a much-needed boost.
With a clear, concerted direction and an even clearer focus on everyday usability, the Pixel tablet seems to have all the right ingredients for success, especially for someone like me who’s skeptical about the need for a dedicated tablet.
As a bigger and hopefully better Nest Hub, it can be the center of my smart home ecosystem. When I need a tablet, I no longer have to look for it on the bookshelf and hope it’s charged. On paper, the Pixel Tablet is just right for me as a casual user. I have a feeling it will be right for many other users as well.
Continue reading: The Pixel Tablet could be the future of smart home displays