We may be only mere days into this shiny new year of ours, but man alive, lemme tell ya: I’m feeling pretty darn excited about what 2023’s got cookin’.
Here in the land o’ Googley matters, y’see, this odd-numbered eon is rapidly shaping up to be a significant one when it comes to Pixel-flavored produce. Google’s riding the long-building momentum of its homemade Android products and gearin’ up for a monumental year of potentially shapeshifting launches.
The Pixel prize we’re hearing the most buzz about right now, without a doubt, is the on-again off-again (and still completely unofficial) folding Pixel phone — believed to be known as either the Pixel Fold or the Pixel Notepad, depending on which rumor du jour you’ve read most recently.
But novel as the notion of a folding phone may be — and intriguing of an idea as it may seem on the surface that Google could be getting into that game — the purported folding Pixel isn’t the product most worthy of your attention.
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Nope: The Pixel product of 2023 you really oughta have your eyes on this minute is none other than the humble-seeming Pixel Tablet.
Now, I know: Google’s been talkin’ about the Pixel Tablet for a good long while now, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like the world’s most mind-blowing device. We got an initial revelation and tease of the thing at last year’s I/O developers’ conference and then a more detailed preview at the company’s hardware shindig in October, and it sure does seem like we’ve seen it from practically every possible angle at this point.
But lest you think this thoroughly marinated rectangle is just another Google also-ran, consider this trio of reasons why the Pixel Tablet is surprisingly important and potentially even pivotal on a level few Googley gadgets achieve:
1. The Pixel Tablet is completely new and original
When you really stop and think about it, the Pixel Tablet is poised to mark the first time in a long time where Google’s coming out with something completely new — not just a new type of device for Google but a whole new approach to thinking about a type of technology.
And to be sure, the vast majority of recent Pixel launches fall into that former category:
- The Pixel Watch is nice and all, but it’s really just a new version of an existing concept — one Google itself has been flippin’ and floppin’ on for many a fortnight.
- The alleged upcoming Pixel Fold, all my broad reservations about that form aside, is by most counts just Google’s take on what other phone-makers are already doing.
- Heck, going all the way back to the original advent of Android tablets, let’s not delude ourselves: Those devices were mostly a rushed-out response to the sudden success of the original iPad. Some were decent and some perfectly pleasant to use, but there wasn’t anything truly new or original in that arena. The idea was mostly — well, a product like the iPad, only running Android.
The Pixel Tablet is shaping up to be a very different story. From everything we’ve seen so far, Google isn’t so much just making its own version of a current tablet but instead stepping back and rethinking what a tablet even oughta be.
And on that note…
2. The Pixel Tablet could create an entire new category of technology
Rather paradoxically, calling the Pixel Tablet a “tablet” is a little misleading.
The entire point of the Pixel Tablet, based on what Google’s told us so far, is that it isn’t Just Another Tablet™ — as nearly every slate-shaped screen we’ve seen over the past 13 years has been.
I mean, think about it: Most tablets on both the Android and the iOS side of the divide exist somewhere in the space between “like a phone, but larger” and “like a laptop, but a little less capable.” (You’ve also got convertible Chromebook computers, of course, but those are kinda their own can of worms.)
With the Pixel Tablet, Google’s aiming to really rethink how we alleged humans actually put those products to use and what purposes they serve. And with that in mind, it’s working to create a whole new sort of framework for how tablets should function and fit into our lives.
The basic idea, as Google’s explained it, is that a tablet is mostly an at-home device for most people — so it makes sense for it to act as a communal Smart-Display-style screen most of the time and then something you can pick up, have recognize you, and use to get into your own personal stuff whenever the need arises.
That’s the super-short version of the role the Pixel Tablet seems destined to play. It’s a next-gen Android tablet model that revolves around a shared docked-display surface, thereby making it a home and/or office hub, first and foremost — a way for anyone to see basic info and contextual intelligence meant for public consumption.
Unlike the Smart Displays of today, though, it appears the ultimate ambition with the Pixel Tablet is to provide a fully customizable and info-rich environment in that docked form — one that’s easy to see being useful and opening up lots of interesting doors both on the home front and in business environments.
And once you factor in the ability for any approved user to pick the thing up, sign into it, and use it as an actual personal device, it’s suddenly got a whole different kind of appeal than anything else out there. It’s almost not even a tablet, per se, nor is it exactly a Smart Display. It’s an intriguing sort of new hybrid mashup that ultimately creates its own class of product — one that’s yet to be named or defined by any other major tech player.
In other words, all signs suggest Google isn’t planning to go head to head with the iPad — or to offer up any sort of traditional Android tablet model, either. Instead, it seems to be set on creating its own completely new category — one where, at least in theory, it can set the standard and then force everyone else to catch up. And it’s increasingly clear that Android itself is also being prepped to support that same sort of purpose at the ecosystem level.
Last but not least…
3. The Pixel Tablet is our first look at an influential new presence within Android
It’d be understandable to see the Pixel Tablet as another fleeting Google project that’s bound to be abandoned. After all, Google itself boldly proclaimed it was done making Android tablets a mere few years ago (insert exasperated sigh here) But warranted as any such skepticism may be, this latest dizzying pivot comes with a little extra weight behind it.
As Android Intelligence was first to report last year, Google’s got a new force within its Android ranks — and it’s someone with a whole lot of important history.
He’s a fella named Rich Miner, and in case his name doesn’t ring an immediate bell, allow me of January 2021 to enlighten ye:
Miner was one of the original co-founders of Android — right alongside Andy Rubin. I interviewed him in 2016 for my (no-longer-publicly-available) podcast and heard all about his winding path through the mobile-tech universe. He played a key role in Android’s birth and helped shape its direction over the first several years of its existence, and while he may not be a household name today, his influence undeniably helped Android grow into what it’s become.
Miner left Android in 2010 and went on to work at Google’s venture capital branch. In 2016, he took a position heading up some mysterious new Google education project that may or may not have ultimately resulted in any tangible products. And now, it seems he’s come back to his roots to pursue another new beginning under the Android umbrella.
This is that beginning. This — the Pixel Tablet — is the first publicly visible fruit of Miner’s return to his Android roots. This is his vision for what the future of Android should be.
It’s yet-to-be determined, of course, how effective and compelling all of this will actually end up being. But seeing Google branch out into what’s effectively a whole new category of product really is a refreshing rarity. And Miner’s involvement only adds to the weighty-feeling potential around it.
And that’s why the Pixel Tablet is hands-down the most exciting Pixel product in the works for this still-young year — both in the immediate sense of what practical benefits it could bring into our lives and, perhaps more significant yet, in the broader sense of how it could transform the Android ecosystem and eventually even influence the other ecosystems around it.
Keep your eyes peeled, my compadres. Some interesting times are ahead.
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