Google has announced that it will no longer produce its own Android tablets, with 2018's Pixel Slate now marking the company's tablet swan song.
The news might not be too surprising for some pundits, who have long claimed that Google's offerings have failed to capture the imagination of the public in the way that its early, budget tablets did. The decline of the Android tablet market is also another nail in the coffin, and good news for Apple's iPad dominance.
With Google's withdrawal, is there still space in the market for Android tablets, or has Apple (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft's Surface line), won?
Why is Google Discontinuing Tablets?
In his tweet revealing the news, Rick Osterloh, leader of hardware at Google, stated that his team would continue focusing on its laptop business moving forward. But, no clear reasoning has been given for dropping tablets. Speculation suggests that sluggish sales, and the company's inability to find a killer product to compete with the iPad are contributing factors.
It's certainly true that Google tablets have failed to set the world on fire (quick test: how many people do you know that own one?). That contrasts with its success in the smartphones space, however – the Google Pixel phones are among the best smartphones you can buy, and particularly impress with their brilliant cameras.
Phone lovers shouldn't despair – despite the similar naming convention with its tablet range, the Pixel range of phones is proving popular as ever, and is unaffected by this decision. The Pixel Chromebook is also safe, leading the way as a premium Chromebook offering.
Even if it's pulling out of producing its own tablets, Google has committed to working with partners on Android devices, and supporting the Android and ChromeOS platforms. Osterloh also promised that Google would continue to support its most recent tablet release, the Pixel Slate.
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
Google's Tablet History
Google may not have produced a huge volume of tablets over the years, but its devices certainly made an impact. This is especially true for its debut tablet, the Nexus 7.
Manufactured by Asus, and released in 2012 with Google branding, it was a huge hit – thanks in part to its fairly modest price. While it couldn't compete with Apple's iPad range on specs, it could certainly give the iPad a challenge on price. Starting at $199, the Nexus 7 felt a true bargain compared to the original iPad's $499 asking price. Sure, it only came with 8GB of storage, but throw in an SD card and you could expand it for cheap – another point scored against the iPad. Google managed to sell over 7 million of them.
The Nexus 7 suffered some bad press as it aged, however. It was notorious for slowing down, and owners would regularly need to reset it to get it back up to speed again. Google released a follow up in 2013, as well as a larger 10-inch model.
Google released the Nexus 9 in 2014. This was a decent Android tablet for the time, but it couldn't capture the lightning-in-a-bottle that had made the Nexus 7 so popular. Google's CFO Patrick Pichette lamented the tablet's lack of success, saying, ‘Year over year it hasn't been as strong given the strength of the Nexus 7 last year'.
In 2015 Google launched the Pixel C tablet. It was a much more premium device than the Nexus line, but, by this point the Android tablet market was already in deep slide, with consumers preferring to pick up Apple and Windows tablets, instead.
Google's last attempt was 2018's Pixel Slate, which ditched the Android platform and went with ChromeOS instead – usually reserved for Chromebooks. It was pitched as a powerful and premium tablet. Despite a few small issues, we liked it plenty in our review, but the starting price of $599, going up to $1,299, was too much of a big ask for the average consumer.
Is this the End of the Line for the Android Tablet?
While Google may be ditching its tablet business, there are still plenty of other manufacturers out there producing Android tablets. Big names like Asus, Samsung and Acer still knock out tablets every year that run on Google's operating system (or modified versions of it). And, let's not forget Amazon, which is quietly a big player in the Android tablet space thanks to its Fire range (built on the foundations of the Android OS).
Still, it's a tough market for Android tablets. Apple's extensive iPad range means that it has a tablet for pretty much everyone. With the 9.7-inch iPad starting at $329, and offering a great tablet experience, it's hard to beat on price and consumer aspiration.
Then, there's Windows based devices, which offer users an instantly recognisable user interface. Some are priced pretty appealingly – even Microsoft's own Go tablet can be had for under $400.
While Google may have pulled out of the tablet industry for now, there's still a chance it'll be back. Many of us assumed that the Pixel C was the company's last gasp, after it was discontinued in 2017 with no immediate successor, until the Pixel Slate was revealed in 2018.
Google has gained a bit of reputation for being quick to cancel projects when it loses interest, but it's also just as quick to start them again, so don't be too surprised if we see another Google tablet in the future.