Why is Google making a Pixel Tablet Pro?

All signs point to Google releasing not one, but two Android tablets in 2023. The question is, why is Google making a Pixel Tablet Pro at all?

For over a decade now, Google and other device manufacturers have been trying to make Android tablets truly competitive with Apple’s iPad. Whether or not those efforts have been successful is a matter of debate, but Google itself had long bowed out of the Android tablet space. Even the Pixel C tablet from 2015 was originally supposed to run on ChromeOS instead of Android, making the Nexus 9 Google’s most recent tablet intended for Android.

In some ways, Google using ChromeOS as its premier tablet experience made a great deal of sense. After all, Chromebooks can run Android apps, and there’s a full desktop experience ready to go once you snap on a keyboard and mouse. The Pixelbook proved this better than any other device to date, but the same couldn’t be said for Google’s most recent tablet, the 2018 Pixel Slate.

Where the Pixelbook brought a superb balance between laptop and tablet and was judged against other laptops/Chromebooks, the Pixel Slate was a tablet first, pitting against the iPad and even Android tablets. Without going into too many details — you can read more on that saga in our previous coverage — the short version is that the Pixel Slate failed at being a productive laptop and wasn’t a compelling tablet compared to even a cheaper iPad.

This failure even led Google to cancel two other tablet projects that were in the works. Despite that failure, the work Google put into making ChromeOS tablets great eventually paved the way for the fantastic tablets available today like the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet series.

Fast forward to 2022, and Google has multiple new visions of what a tablet can be and the role it plays in everyday life. On one side, Google has noted that Android tablets often spend a significant amount of time unused. To give the household tablet a new purpose while idle (and keep it charged and ready to be used) the Google Pixel Tablet can be placed on a dock, turning it into a smart display like the Nest Hub.

This vision makes perfect sense for a more affordable iteration of the Pixel Tablet, intended for simple entertainment and smart home control. However, that doesn’t jive with the existence of a higher-end “Pixel Tablet Pro,” which we’ve seen numerous signs of Google preparing, with new bits of evidence appearing regularly.

From the “Pro” designation, we believe Google is once again trying to create a tablet that’s ready for the productivity of a normal work day. This leads us to Google’s second strategy for the future of Android tablets. Earlier this year, Rich Miner, Google’s CTO of Tablets, shared a vision of Android tablets running entirely new apps and experiences made possible by the use of a stylus.

If tablets really are going to become this new device for people to be creative and productive, what new apps would take advantage of people who might be doing things stylus-enabled out of the gate? What does that mean for the mobility that you have with a tablet that you don’t even quite have with a laptop?

– Rich miner

To that end, Google has told us that the Pixel Tablet will support USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) pens, making it the first Android device to do so. In essence, you’ll be able to buy any USI stylus or use one you might already own from a different device — rather than requiring an expensive, Google-branded accessory — and use it with your Pixel Tablet, bringing fine precision and pressure sensitivity .

More precise details of the tablet’s stylus support have yet to leak out, but USI pen compatibility is a good fit for a productivity-focused Pixel Tablet Pro, especially if apps from Google and third-parties are updated to use it well. Conversely, skipping stylus support is one way Google could keep costs down for the mainstream Pixel Tablet model.

Meanwhile, across Google’s many Android apps and even Android itself, the company has also been putting effort into making the operating system more keyboard friendly. Google Docs and other Workspace apps have been gaining useful keyboard shortcuts, while the latest Android Beta release included an upcoming feature that makes it easy to open a particular app with just your keyboard. Better yet, last week we even saw tangible progress on Android’s long awaited “desktop” mode.

As my colleague Abner Li reported in October, Google has been explicit about offering a good productivity experience for the Pixel Tablet by working with both internal and third-party developers.

Between keyboard and/or stylus accessories and the boosted core specs that a “Pro” device typically brings, the Pixel Tablet Pro is in prime position to serve as the showpiece of where Google wants to take Android on large screens. The only question is whether that vision will be realized in time for early adopters of Google’s upcoming device or if other tablet makers like Lenovo and Samsung will be the ones to reap the benefits.

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