With its new Pixel Slate tablet, Google wants to win the shrinking tablet market in a battlefield it will have to share with competitors like Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface devices.
The search giant said Monday its new tablet is part of the company’s lineup of Pixel-branded hardware, including the Pixel smartphone and Pixelbook laptop. Like the Pixelbook, the Pixel Slate is powered by Google’s Chrome operating system as opposed to its mobile operating system Android, which companies like Samsung use as the underlying software for their own tablets.
It’s curious timing for Google to debut a tablet, considering several analysts say the market for the devices appears to be declining. In August, for example, research firm International Data Corporation said tablet shipments dropped 13.5% year-over-year in the second quarter 2018 to 33 million units, with Apple and Samsung leading the market. IDC researchers said that companies and consumers appear to be shifting their attention to personal computers instead of tablets.
Google (GOOG) product management director Kan Liu, however, contends that tablets still represent “a huge market” that’s “second only to phones.”
“To be fair, Google hasn’t invested in the tablet space,” Liu said. “The last time we launched was like 3 years ago or so,” he said referring to Google’s Pixel C Android-based tablet, which Google shuttered in 2017 in favor of its newer Chrome OS-based devices.
Liu pitches the Pixel Slate as having the “best of both worlds” when it comes to both mobile and desktop computing. The tablet’s Chrome OS operates as a hybrid desktop and mobile OS, in which its basic user interface resembles the popular Android operating system. This means people accustomed to opening apps and navigating their smartphones with their fingers should feel immediately comfortable with a Pixel Slate.
For people accustomed to using PCs for tasks like web browsing the Chrome OS makes it possible to do things like switching through multiple tabs within a browser and having several windows overlap each other. This is helpful for people who want to keep multiple windows open so they can compare different products they are interested in buying, said Liu.
“You can’t actually do that on an Android tablet,” Liu said.
Like the iPad Pro, the Pixel Slate works with a stylus pen for drawing or taking notes with your hand and a detachable keyboard with a trackpad that costs $99 and $199, respectively.
The detachable, backlit keyboard contains circular buttons instead of the more conventional square-shaped buttons for typing. Depending on your personal aesthetic, the circular keys could be perceived as an eyesore and a productivity killer, akin to typing on a tray of tiny monocles. Matt Vokoun, another Google product management director, however, contends that they are “playful,” and while “there is a bit of a learning curve” when typing on the circular keys, Google’s internal testing shows that people’s typing rate and accuracy increased by an unspecified amount.
The barebones Pixel Slate model will cost $599 and include 4GB RAM, a 32 GB solid state drive, and an 8th generation Intel Celeron processor. The most expensive Pixel Slate will cost $1,599 and contain 16GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a more powerful 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor.
All of the Pixel Slate models have a 12.3-inch touch-screen display with a 3000 x 2000 resolution. The tablet is supposed to last over 10 hours on a single battery charge when people do performance-heavy tasks like watching Netflix shows or movies, the executives said.
Google’s new tablet comes just a week after Microsoft (MSFT) announced the Surface Pro 6, which has a 13.5-hour battery life and 12.3-inch touch display for all of its models. The new Surface Pro costs $899 for the cheapest model that has 8 GB of memory, an Intel Core i5 processor, and 128 GB of storage.
Meanwhile, Apple’s (AAPL) current generation iPad Pro, which Apple said has a 10-hour battery life, starts at $649 and comes with a 10.5-inch screen, a 64 GB hard drive, and the company’s A10X Fusion chip.
Unlike the Surface Pro or the iPad Pro, the Pixel Slate contains no 3.5 mm headphone jack, which Liu said is because of a “strong general trend” in which “more and more users are switching to wireless.”
As for why people should choose to buy the Pixel Slate when there are so many competing tablets with detachable keyboards on the market, Vokoun believes that many device makers, which he didn’t name, end up “overburdening the tablet side” as they try to make the device “really effective as a computer.” These devices, he believes, are too heavy and have cumbersome hinges that hook onto removable keyboards, which makes them less attractive as a hand-held device when sitting on the couch.
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“The number one thing is that we didn’t want it to be compromised when being used as a tablet,” Vokoun said.
Google is betting that there’s still a room in people’s hearts for tablets, even when there’s now a plethora of over-sized, powerful smartphones on the market that seem capable of performing similar feats as tablets, like displaying stunning visuals.
Vokoun is hoping that Pixel Slate will be the preferred computing device for “the on-the-go-professional who wants a device to get work done, but has downtime to watch videos.”