Any claim that Android tablets are effectively dead in the water wouldn’t be much of a stretch by most estimations. That’s been the running story for quite some time.
There are plenty of reasons to reach that conclusion. For years now, Apple and Amazon have dominated the game at the bleeding upper edge and the lowest fringes of the budget category in that arena. More recently, Google itself announced it was done making attempts to build tablets.
But breaking past the surface reveals there’s more to the story than meets the eye. That’s without too big a stretch beyond the conventional meaning of the term and with some consideration for the market as a whole. It’s equally safe to say that Android “tablets” are alive and well. It may be fair to say that they’re thriving.
To begin with, there are still quite a few companies that still haven’t gotten the memo. Whether that’s Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo, or any number of Chinese and other third parties, there are still Android tablets being made. Second, the number one selling tablet that isn’t “Android” is still, technically speaking, running Android.
Android applications are at least one of the reasons that those who aren’t buying Chromebooks for school or work buy them. In at least some cases, they may even be among the top reasons in those market segments. While a Chromebook isn’t technically an Android tablet, a 2-in-1, Chrome tablet, or detachable Chrome OS gadget very nearly is.
Simultaneously, Android tablets are expanding beyond conventional form factors further still in recent months. So it may not be unfair to say that the gadgets aren’t dead at all. Not even remotely. They’ve just diversified beyond the conventional idea of what an Android tablet is supposed to be.
If you can still walk into any Walmart and buy an Android tablet, they aren’t dead
Starting from perhaps the most obvious position that can be taken on this matter, retail offers the most poignant example of just how ‘not-dead’ Android tablets are. The common misconception that has been perpetuated about the devices as an inviable product can readily be pushed aside simply by pointing a finger toward the nearest Walmart.
Walk into any given Family Dollar, Walmart, or the like and navigate to the electronics section. Android tablets will not be in short supply. Whether those are made by some unexpected OEMs like Polaroid and RCA or traditional companies such as LG and Samsung, the tablets are there. Walmart even has its own Onn-branded tablets, shown in the image here.
A similar circumstance is found online. With a simple search on Amazon or eBay for “Android tablets,” a wealth of devices can easily be found from any number of big-name and unknown manufacturers.
The overwhelming majority of those are cheap, lackluster devices. They’re not going to offer a great experience or they’re going to fail to work properly within a year. Those won’t play the latest games or movies at anything approaching a reasonable resolution. They still work for day-to-day use for many buyers and as entry-level devices. They still serve a purpose that consumers are willing to pay for.
There are also solid offerings to fill up space between and they run the gamut. Some may be more like oversized phones that will really only be great for those who need to extend communications ability and for entertainment purposes. Others are geared toward use more like a standard tablet and a variety of use case scenarios. Still, others are productivity-focused, shipping with keyboards and other accessories.
Regardless, those devices have been sold at these locations for years and continue to be.
…and big names haven’t lost interest in them either
Moving beyond perhaps overly-wallet-conscious options found online or at brick-and-mortar retail, there are still plenty of tablets from big-name companies too. As with the devices above, those serve a number of use cases from at-home entertainment to filling enterprise roles.
Samsung’s recently launched Galaxy Tab S5e and Tab S6 serve as just two examples of that on the entertainment and productivity front. The South Korean tech giant’s recently launched Samsung Galaxy Tab Active Pro, revealed for enterprise at IFA 2019, serves as another.
But it isn’t just Samsung making top-tier devices to fill in those niches either and those aren’t just being sold directly through Samsung’s site. Huawei and other big brands such as LG are taking part too and even mobile service providers are in on the action.
For every iPad being sold at Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile, there are Android tablets to match. Aimed more at mobile productivity than entertainment, connected tablets running Android are still around and more are still being released. Arguably, those fill a wider swath of the market than Apple’s products too since they tend to be less expensive. Moreover, they run from filling specialized needs to being all-around devices rather than one-size-fits-all.
The case for Chrome OS devices as Android tablets
A less conventional way to view the situation for Android tablets is to also include Chromebooks. For 2-in-1 or detachable devices, touch is made to be used by Android apps in Chrome OS. That’s setting aside Chrome tablets and there are a few of those too.
In fact, there are very few applications of touch technology on Chrome OS that don’t come back to Android apps. Aside from a still severely limited number of Linux and Web Apps for the platform, those are the only instances where touch is really useful. Although all ‘new’ Chromebooks come with Android apps, not all of those that haven’t reached their end of life do. And whether or not one does is still a top question among potential buyers.
With Android acting as a central crux to bring together functionality with form and speed in Chrome OS, they are arguably among the most important developments that the platform has fully put in place. Conversely, Android tablets do often come with an EMR stylus and keyboard. So those hardware attributes don’t necessarily negate their position.
In that sense, even though Chromebooks are technically laptops or computers, they’re also Android tablets when they take certain form factors. Chrome devices are still among the top-selling devices on any given online marketplace or any store. Because of that, it could be argued that in many ways Android tablets are doing very well.
Amazon is the elephant in the room here
Setting aside the stretch that Chromebooks could be considered Android devices, bolstered by a near-identical software experience on a wide number of devices, there’s at least one other similarly built set of devices that come much closer. After all, Amazon’s Fire OS is, for all intents and purposes, a rebuilt variation of Android OS.
Functioning almost like tablets running an Android ROM, Amazon Fire tablets offer a unique experience quite apart from standard Android. They almost all feature the same UI, apps, and design focus, for starters. But they also don’t offer Google Play, Assistant, or Google’s apps without some serious workarounds. Amazon offers up its own, linked in with its services instead all built on an Android framework. Those are usually linked to its Prime memberships services.
So it’s almost easy to forget that Amazon’s start in the arena was and still is Android — making its devices, Android tablets. Amazon Fire tablets are, pun very much intended, a hot commodity.
Now, it’s true that Google isn’t getting much by way of return on investment for Amazon’s tablets. They don’t offer Google services or apps and their OS is based on the Android Open Source Project. All of the downloads and the UI are exceptionally limited, primarily to Amazon’s offerings across the board.
What its tablets do provide is a tablet-first interface and experience that differentiates entirely from Google’s, consistently and without breaking the bank.
Spreading Android tablets in unconventional forms
Perhaps the most recent indication that there’s still plenty of life left in the Android slate market comes from Google itself. As mentioned above, Google said it wasn’t abandoning the development side for Android tablets. It turns out the company had bigger plans in mind than just adding a couple of features too.
Google arguably hasn’t done a whole lot to ensure that developers and OEMs are creating tablet-first experiences. Nevertheless, the final indicator that the devices are alive and well comes back to the fact that Google is still innovating. As of IFA 2019, the company has effectively created a new category for the devices through new Google Assistant features.
Dubbed Assistant Ambient mode, the new feature can be summarized through a look at the new Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab. That’s a moderately-equipped Android tablet first and foremost. At the touch of a button, it also transforms into a smart home hub. The tablet can be configured into several different stand modes via a kickstand. It can also be hung up by a slot in that apparatus for mounting in a car or elsewhere.
That means that users can take advantage of their apps on the go. Or they can choose a touch-free mode not dissimilar from Google’s Nest Home Hub devices. That lets them control their smart home, use voice interactions to access music and media, and more. Other tablets will be able to take advantage of that too, either via a dock or other method. Lenovo itself launched two at IFA and the feature can be added via software.
Android tablets aren’t dead, they’re diverse
Taken in combination, it becomes readily apparent that Android tablets are not, in fact, dead. Instead, they’ve diversified to fit a wide variety of niches. Setting aside the very few all-around tablets that are designed to do it all, there are Android tablets made for just about anything.
Whether as a budget-friendly device just for consuming media from time to time, a hybrid home hub device, or something that can get real work done, Android tablets exist that fill the role.
The primary problem is that no one type of Android tablet or tablet-like device is truly competitive. With each category set aside on its own, they just don’t always sell as well as might be hoped. Or even well enough to seem viable. But there are a wealth of devices to choose from, each with their own purpose and taken collectively, they do well enough.
Calling the market for Android tablets “dead” may be the biggest stretch of all.