Android - Tablet First!
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 23 March 2022

I don't know about you, but I love Android tablets. Recently, however, I have given in to pressure from Amazon and use Fire Tablets. Now Google seems to think that it is time to give the format a try. Why did it ever give up on tablets?


Android tablets fell out of fashion soon after Google gave up on its flagship Nexus tablets. Quite simply Google lost interest because the market "kind of stagnated" - according to  Rich Milner (Android co-founder) who has just been appointed CTO of Android Tablets. Why it stagnated isn't clear, but at the time the focus was all iPad and the Android market was flooded with low-cost, not-very-capable hardware or expensive, not-quite-standard devices. Developing for Android tablets was also tough because either you had to produce tablet-specific versions or master the complexities of Fragments, which never really solved the problem anyway.

The fact that Milner has rejoined the Android team with a specific brief to restart Android tablets indicates that Google thinks that there might well be a renaissance in the format. The reason is that the market started to increase late in 2019 and continues to rise - up 50% since 2020. Part of the reason seems to be that the hardware has matured to the point where a cheap tablet can challenge a laptop in what you can do with it. Larger screens and options like bluetooth keyboards mean tablets can be used for more than consumption of media. In other words, tablets have grown up to be laptops.

As a result Android 12L is going to have some improvements to help us create apps that work on larger screens. The operating system itself will help by making multiple window support easier for the user. Apart from that the advice seems to be "use JetPack Compose" and this leads on to "Design for tablet first". For those of us who have apps developed using the traditional XML, fragments and more this is a tall order and scaling a UI down is far more difficult than scaling it up. The argument, however, is that it's worth the extra effort because with tablets because the larger screen and optional keyboard makes apps for creatives possible and this would be a new class of Android app - the market is waiting!

I'm not convinced.

I am fairly convinced by the argument that tablets are going to be more important for the future, but not because we are seeing a tablet resurgence but more because the distinction between tablets and laptops is growing ever more blurred.

Is Android the natural OS for these devices? This is less convincing. I'm also not sure that the new team has any idea what makes it easier to create apps that scale with UI - does anyone? Perhaps it's the open question of UI design. In my opinion the Constraint layout, which the Android team rammed down our throats just before a different part of the team decided that Compose was what we really needed, has a much better chance of solving the problem.

Will anything useful come out of it? My guess is not much, but even so it would be nice to have a strong hand at the helm - Android has drifted rudderless for too long.


More Information

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 23 March 2022 )