The company is drumming up the hype on its Android Developers YouTube channel
After years of leaving Android tablets languishing, Google has finally stepped things up again with Android 12L, a surprise version bump for Android 12 focusing on enhancements for tablets, foldables, and other big screens. While this release has just launched in stable, it has not actually arrived on any relevant device that could truly benefit from it, but Google is just getting started. The company has shared a YouTube video on its Android Developers channel, talking about how tablets and other big-screen devices are bound to take over laptops in shipment numbers, and how developers should rethink their mobile-first approaches.
Rich Miner, Android co-founder and now CTO of tablets, talks about how the first Android tablets were mostly used as media consumption devices rather than content creation machines, with usage and shipments stagnating over the years as that pretty much remained the only use case for Android on big screens. Miner reports that in 2019, there was a shift for Android tablet hardware, though. Screens were getting larger and keyboard accessories were becoming more common, making Android tablets much better suited for productivity than ever before.
Miner even acknowledges that without any optimizations on Google’s part but rather pushes from third-party manufacturers, these growing tablets with keyboard accessories were starting to be used for creativity and productivity, with the Covid-19 pandemic serving as an accelerant. He says, “it just turns out tablets were very capable and less expensive than a laptop,” all while offering portability.
With Android 12L, Google is finally back in the game itself and providing some standardized tools for developers and device manufacturers alike, giving them guidelines on how to design app interfaces around big landscape screens. In fact, the company is hoping to provide the tools to make apps scale nicely in both landscape and portrait orientations across tablets and foldables, with the Android 12L taskbar allowing quick switching between productivity apps and offering an easy way to enter split screen.
With the Android tablet market growing, Rich Miner is hoping for a shift in focus for developers. “I actually think there is going to be another wave of apps here that are thinking tablet-first,” as opposed to the mobile-first mantra we’ve had for years, he says in the video. “What can I do with that larger screen that I could not easily do with something that’s physically connected to a keyboard?”
While Google could have probably started capitalizing on this trend much earlier, it hasn’t done much to help its third-party manufacturers until recently. The company neglected tablets and big-screen devices for a long time, with Google no longer selling hardware of its own and not adding any groundbreaking new features to the stock Android tablet build. Despite the company still not offering tablets or foldables of its own, Android 12L marks a decided shift in its priorities, being the company’s first release almost exclusively targeting big screens, much like 2011’s Honeycomb.
Let’s just hope that 10 years later, the company actually manages to gain some foothold in the tablet market – and not leave it to Apple and its excellent ecosystem of existing tablet-first apps. Apple is truly years ahead of Google when it comes to apps and workflows designed with tablets in mind, even if many people may still prefer to work on laptops.
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