The tablet market is in freefall.
They were once promised as devices to replace our laptops, but that prediction never panned out. Instead, the iPad continues to struggle and Windows 10 relies mostly on hybrid devices instead of traditional tablets.
None of that should be news to anyone who watches the industry, of course.
Android tablets have had even bigger problems, with many major manufacturers either giving up or pumping out a bunch of cheap models you get for free as a bundle with another product.
Samsung is the big exception though. It just announced the new, premium Android-powered Galaxy Tab S3, an update to the tablet it launched in 2015.
But the timing couldn’t be worse. Android tablets have never proven themselves, and Google is getting ready to start over with a new operating system reportedly codenamed Andromeda that merges Chrome and Android together. In theory, this would give laptop makers an opportunity to make that dreamy all-in-one tablet/laptop hybrid that no one has quite been able to perfect yet. (Sorry, iPad Pro. And sorry, Surface Pro.)
We’re already seeing hints of this shift. Last year, Google announced that Chromebooks would be able to run Android apps, setting the platform up for a major boost. Before, Chromebooks were essentially just a web browser. Soon, they will be able to run apps just like a “normal” laptop. And because Android’s Google Play Store is already full of thousands of great apps, Google won’t have to persuade developers to suddenly start building for a brand new platform.
Ironically, Samsung already realised the potential with its two new touchscreen Chromebooks that also run Android apps. As my colleague Jeff Dunn wrote in his review, the software is still in beta and full of a lot of dealbreaking bugs, but you can see the promise of this new breed of laptop Google is cooking up.
That brings us back to Android.
While Android has dominated the smartphone market, it’s never been able to crack tablets, and releasing an Android tablet ahead of such a big shift from Google feels like a mistake. As nice as the Galaxy Tab S3 looks, it’s curious that Samsung chose now to release an Android tablet that will likely feel obsolete in a few months. (If I had to speculate, we’ll probably get our first look at Andromeda at Google’s I/O developers conference in May.)
I’m much more intrigued by what Chromebooks turn into, and the recent rise of super-thin Windows 10 tablets like this one from Huawei and the other tablet Samsung announced on Sunday, the Galaxy Book.
If you want a tablet, my recommendation is to stay away from Android on tablets for now. It had its chance to prove itself, and it failed. There are a lot more exciting things coming soon.
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