Google needs to build a Chrome tablet

ASUS Chromebook Flip
ASUS Chromebook Flip

Many people reading this will have paid at least a passing interest to Apple's WWDC 2017 announcements. Among all the hyperbole and salesmanship in the keynote address there was one thing that became clear: the iPad is closer than ever to the only "computer" most of us need. Apple is serious about making a tablet that's productive but simple to use, and this is going to evolve into the standard for regular consumers. At least Apple thinks so, and it's probably right.

That means Google needs to get on board and help define the future of this new-but-not-really-new thing. The good news is that it has a helluva head start with Chrome OS.

The software on a Chromebook is a good starting point for a next generation operating system.

A lot of people will disagree, but chances are a decent Chromebook is the only computer you need. Sure, content creators will need something with extra horsepower and the software tools to work with, but for the computer you buy for goofing around at home or doing your school work a Chromebook will probably work out fine. Hell, I spend most of my work week in front of one because I have everything I need and it's set up the way I like it. Chromebooks are great for the now but need some adjustment to be ready for the future.

Chrome already works on a tablet. Mostly. We know this because so many Chromebooks can be flipped around and turned into one. I still think my little Chromebook Flip is the best Android tablet you can buy because it has every app you need from Google Play and a real web browser. But it's thick and clunky to use as a tablet and some of the Chrome apps don't work as well with a touch interface as they need to. And let's be honest, the display isn't on par with a good tablet from Samsung or even the Pixel C. But the core experiences — a touch interface that works and an on-display keyboard — are in place and usable.

It's easy to take what we have now in the Chromebook Flip (or any other convertible Chromebook) and turn it into something better. We know it's easy because Microsoft and Apple are doing it and a device that attaches to a keyboard isn't a new idea. The Transformer series of tablets from ASUS is a great example of that. Hardware isn't an issue, though money probably is.

The company who can build a good Chrome tablet needs to be able to lose money on it. That means Google.

A good tablet isn't cheap to build, and that makes it expensive when it gets put on a shelf. The Galaxy Tab S3 or the latest iPad isn't priced the way it is just because. And, to be honest, people who will be willing to adopt a "new way to computer" aren't going to be satisfied with anything less. A good great 10-inch display with a high resolution, a decent processor and enough memory to hold a bunch of apps and web apps, and at least 128GBs worth of storage, is the minimum for a device that's supposed to make us all give up our real laptops. And make sure it has a decent keyboard and a sturdy way to attach it.

Samsung's not going to build this. It shouldn't because Android on a tablet isn't good enough to justify the price, but Chrome might be. At least when the Android runtimes are sorted and Android 8.0 becomes a thing and applications work better than they do now. The software needs to be sorted before it makes any sense to build an expensive Chrome tablet. That means Google needs to build it so there is real hardware to use when sorting out the new software.

It turns out that developers weren't willing to spend the time and money to make tablet apps for Android.

Google can afford to be that loss leader for a "new" hardware category. It's done it numerous times and tried to do it for Android tablets. While it worked for Android TV or Android Wear (mostly) it failed for the tablet because of the software. Developers don't have to do anything for their app to work on a tablet, but there's a difference between just working and working well. Making a great tablet app takes extra time and money that few companies are willing to invest. It's hard enough to make money with an app for a phone, let alone spending more to build an interface for a much smaller tablet market. It seems like Google expected developers to just do it, and it was wrong.

That's why Google now has to try and fix it. On a 10-inch screen, multiple apps doing their thing at the same time is pretty standard. Android 7 introduced new ways for developers to make things better in this situation, and Android 8 is going to help us use apps that weren't updated. Things won't be perfect, but they will be better and help the people making new apps see what they can do to cover both the small screen on a phone and the big screen on a tablet. Since Android apps run native in Chrome, everything a developer does also will apply here.

I still think we'll eventually see a single OS from Google that scales with the display and type of user input. You can call that Andromeda or Fuchsia or whatever you like. But to get there, Google needs to get started now so developers can be ready. With a Chrome tablet, we all can get started and whatever the future of Google's operating systems is, it will be better because developers are ready for it, too.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I've never owned an iPhone, prob never will but still have an iPad. There's nothing in the Android world that can truly compete with it. It's true.
  • My Sony Z3 Compact Tablet wants to disagree with you 😉 As always, it very much depends on what you use it for. Personally I think my tablet outperforms my wife's iPad Mini 2, but my wife would never contemplate using an android device.
  • I have owned several iPad's and 3 versions of the Sony Z line tablets. Indeed, the Sony's are designed well. And are ascetically pleasing to look at. But the lack of ACTUAL Android tablet optimized apps is what kills the true usefulness of ANY Android based tablet. iPads are the GOLD standard when it comes to vast ecosystem availability. I have attempted to "love" Android tablets from the very first Motorola Xoom days and even owning the Tab S3 now, the Android tablet is SIMPLY only for watching video. Tablet App selection is disgusting on Android. And Google could EASILY fix it. Simply tell Dev's, "if you create new or fully optimize apps for Android, we won't take our 'cut' for 3-5 years. That direct financial incentive would drive development. Currently, if you want to be productive, watch video, and have fun iPad's are the ONLY game in town.
  • Ignoring your condescending tone, you have some good points - the lack of Android apps optimised for tablets is what automatically kills the concept of a major iPad competitor. However, I disagree with you when you say they're the best for watching videos, etc. because Android tablets often have a 16:9 screen ratio, while iPads have a 4:3 ratio, which means you'll have quite annoying black bars on the iPad - even though the Galaxy Tab S3 has them due to its ratio, the AMOLED screen means they're a lot less noticeable because the blacks aren't being backlit. Productivity, you *could* argue is manageable on Android - G Suite and MS apps are available on Android - there are folio keyboard cases available for most major tablets, official or not.
  • Now that iPad is getting a file browser and has split screen I can agree, however a 16:9 aspect android tablet is best for media consumption, having micro SD support adds to that. IPad is better for app selection and productivity.
  • I'm just unsure what I need from an iPad that I can't get from an Android.
    I'm quite sure of what I'd lose by moving to iPad. (I use my tablet as a 3rd screen next to my PC, with widgets for messages & news):
    - ability to dual-boot Windows
    - home screen full of widgets which gives me the info at a glance I want w/o any action on my part 90% of the time
    - mouse support
    - ability to easily get files to/from my tablet, PC, NAS via good'ole file browser My needs re: apps aren't sophisticated: mail, web, skype, videos, simple games, gDocs... I'm sure other users need more or better apps, but I'm also sure this covers 90% of users.
  • Totally agree!
  • For the most part, and for most people there isn't a difference. However for people who do not want to spend the money on a tablet every two years ipads are far superior. My ipad 2 was first built in 2011, while behind in a lot of ways to a new or newer tablet it still runs smooth and can run most apps just fine. My other tablet, a Note 8 2013, was the top of the line tablet in it's era. Same specs as the note 10. However, it barely keeps up. It is sluggish, was never updated, even though I am running cm 14 on it. It is just not as good as the ipad that is a couple of years older. If you are a power user, like for work, android just isn't as good. The apps are almost always better on ios, developers spend more time and effort on on ios, and the end result is obvious. Plus it has imessages.
    IF you can get the average person away from imessage then the differences are much smaller, IF. But when it comes to video messaging on android tablets it sucks. Whatsapp web, no video or phone calling, same for allo and duo. Hangouts is being made into a business only, plus, it sucks. So we have wechat, skype?
  • I can call and text from my Tab S2, benefit of having Verizon.
  • I'm in Europe, and middle-aged, so iMessage is irrelevant because
    1- Apple has a much lower share (10-20%) than in the US... 80% of users can't use iMessage at all, which pretty much kills it as a communication tool, when other tools can be used by all.
    2- I, and my peers, have been using Skype for over a decade (long before iMessage appeared), and it's Good Enough for our admittedly low needs: 1-on-1 msgs and audio/video calls, persistent groups chats, occasional audio/video conf call. It does support pictures and Emojis too ;-p Above all, it's available and runs well on all platforms. Hangout doesn't run well on random PCs, phones, tablets. So we never switched, we're still on Skype indeed. The Android version could use a few widgets though.
  • I agree with this in many ways but as others mentioned it also depends on how you use it. For myself, an Android tablet is enough for listening to podcasts and watching YouTube or movies/tv, which is mostly what I use it for. I miss iOS mainly when I'm gaming on my tablet (since load times are generally better there). I think it does web browsing and productivity better as well but I do those things less frequently on a tablet.
  • i have ipad too and a nexus. Ipad has great apps but besides that a true chromebook detachable can make me sell my ipad. Ipad has lot of limitations with the os itself
  • Well you can always have the best of both worlds. I know on android people shun the iPad, but with Google apps on an iPad, it is a pretty great experience. Android phone and iPad are a great combo, especially with Google services.
  • Yes I agree with you. I currently use a shield tablet but have been wanting to get a newer tablet and I have thought of an iPad. All of Google's services are there so it wouldn't be hard. I been wanting Google to make a new tablet but it seems they don't want to or don't sell enough to justify
  • Unless you don't really use Google apps because there are better built apps out there. I'm not missing anything on my android tablet that I don't use on my android phone. But as has been said, to each his/her own.
  • I have a similar setup. ipad with google apps. it was good at first but when u discover limitations over the course of years u finally give up. I have used ipad for more than 3 years and i think i am ready to give up
  • I loved the Asus Transformers (Android tablets) such as the TF101. Pop the screen off as a tablet that was not bulky like the flip around type and dock it with that extra battery in the base. PLEASE give me that running Chrome!! It could default as an Android tablet undocked and a Chromebook docked. I would buy it.
  • Slow as molasses though. I can't/couldn't actually DO anything on my Transformer.
  • The article is about Google making one. I want that design, not another Asus...a Google "Transformer". Might as well add stylus support while I am dreaming. A Samsung/Google Transformer. Battery and ports in the base.
  • Asus still makes transformers I believe, unfortunately from what I've heard they're still slow. I agree that the form factor is good though and would make sense for a detachable Chromebook. Although, I could see Google doing something more surface like (higher end materials and design, plus the same aspect ratio).
  • Sammy makes this form factor...but, because of high end specs and quality hardware, you're paying the same price for a decent laptop...something has to give and chromebook is trying to fill the gap
  • I loved the Asus Transformer, too, especially the first one! Unfortunately, Android software just wasn't ready for the Transformer (the days of Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich) and the Asus overlays created more problems than they solved. This was a lost opportunity, in my opinion. I agree with those who think the iPad is the gold standard, now. I enjoy using mine, especially when traveling. Although a Transformer with Chrome OS would be interesting...
  • I had one of those, two actually, superb idea, terrible performance. Slower than frozen molasses going uphill . If it had chrome os instead of android it would be very similar to my Asus Flip. Better actually because it had a detachable keyboard and the keyboard had a big battery.
  • I still own my tf300t, but rarely use it now. I loved the form factor with the detachable keyboard. The Nvidia chip was too slow and subject to long periods of lag. I put a custom ROM on it and kept it updated to Android N, which kept it viable for several years. Asus provided one update and zero security patches. THAT'S why I am looking forward to Chrome OS on a tablet form factor. Chrome OS is regularly updated by Google, not the OEM. Eight months back I bought a Zenpad 3s 10 as an interim device. Asus "promised" an update to Android N, but still no word on that. I have never even gotten a security patch. A beautiful, smoothly running device, but likely my last Android tablet. It seems you can't trust an OEM to support their Android devices.
  • That's what I've been waiting for. Or at least a Chromebook with a removable keyboard. I don't want a convertible with a keyboard that flips out of the way.
  • Pixel C fits my needs, but would love to see a new Google tablet for a replacement.
  • Here's the big issue for me, neither can run x86 applications that I use on a daily basis.
  • No. Chromebooks don't run Windows applications (Duh). Not directly. It does however run them via Chrome Remote Desktop, etc.
  • And that's the problem with windows based tablets/surface/mobile devices, they do not have the APPS that I use everyday. I have devices from every side and each does things worse, and better. But for a true tablet experience, nothing beats the ipad. The surface is a terrible tablet for the fact that apps are non exsistant, web browser does not replace apps. Just as the ipad cannot replace my dell computer because apps cannot replace x86 software. it's all a give and take.
  • yes, u can runs windows programs on android and also on chromebook.
    crossover is all u need
  • really? hmmmm. that is interesting. I will have to have a look. I am using bluestacks on my dell 2 in 1 right now.
  • I agree with the Chrome tablet idea. I have a Samsung Tab S2, waiting for an LTE Tab S3, but would prefer A TABLET Chromebook. I just can't stand folding back the keyboard when 95% of the time, I would use it in tablet mode. With better on board storage I would be sold on such a device the moment it was announced. I might even give up my beloved S-Pen for a Chromebook tablet! 😮😮
  • Bought the Asus Zenpad 3s 10 Dec 2016 and have had almost no complaints. Runs any games I play (Kings Road, Bloons TD 5, etc.), comes with 64 GB memory that's expandable, has fingerprint scan security, great speakers for watching video and is less than $300. Some cons: on Android 6 and will probably never see 7, had random freezing for a while where you had to do a hard power-off and reboot (haven't had this for a couple of months, crossing fingers), and a small selection of cases. I've had iPads through work (ipad 3 and the first air) and it is the same problem I have with iphones. No choice in icons, default apps, etc. I would buy the heck out of a new high-powered pixel tablet that came with a good removable keyboard. Something that could compete with the Surface 3 I have at work so I only need to take one device when traveling. With RDP clients and MS apps, a really good Android/Chrome/Andromeda tablet could probably replace a Surface for 90%+ of what most people need a Surface for. DO IT ALREADY, GOOGLE!!! That company, really doesn't seem to have any strategy sometimes.
  • Google also NEEDS to build US Android One devices that are Fi ready. I would love to see a new Google tablet (8"+), be it Chrome, Android, or Fuchsia. Actually in the market for a low cost tablet, coffee shop reader.
  • I only use a PC at work. My daily driver is a Note 4. Once I get home, I'm almost exclusively on my Tab S 8.0. I'll grant that I don't do much but surf, check mail, watch the Mets pay using the MLB app, Facebook, and spend money because Amazon Prime makes it too easy, but I definately think Android could use that cutting edge tablet, 10 - 12 inch max. The bain will be battery, and storage. Apple makes you put it in the cloud, we like SD cards. Price point and quality build is what get people interested. Build it and they will come, BUT it better be Apple good.
  • They had a shot at a Chrome tablet, the Pixel. But the idiots put android on it!
  • Amazon is the only company doing anything interesting with Android tablets, once you install the Google Play Store. They are always on sale for Black Friday, work great for what tablets are best, reading a book or watching a movie/TV show. Netflix and Amazon both allow downloads to the SD card, so its trivial to fill up a $35 tablet with video to watch on a trip, no WiFi needed. And its so cheap you don't have to worry about losing it or killing it on the trip. Serious games, anything taxing, not a good choice.
  • Hey Jerry, do you know if Chromebooks will ever handle multiple gmail accounts for purchased apps like Android phones? I'm finding it bothersome switching between my accounts on a chromebook just to use an app I've purchased on a different account.
  • This is my biggest headache with Chromebooks. I have 2 main Google Accounts that I need to access simultaneously. I can do it on Android. Why not Chrome!
  • At least the iPad performs well and has the great apps, updates for the price unlike the sub par Tab S3 from Samsung at a crazy price.
  • This is exactly what I would love to see. I'm going to be buying a convertible just because it is what's available, but would much prefer a tablet with detachable keyboard. I'd be all in on a pixel c type of Chromebook. It would be nice to have a tablet that actually gets security updates for a reasonable amount of time.
  • How about if Google could just make a "Google Laptop". A hybrid, touchscreen laptop that triple boots into ChromeOS, Android, and Linux (pick your distro). And possibly have the proper wireless, graphics, audio, i/o port chipsets so it's also easily Hackintoshable for a quad boot system. Instead of a MBP (MacBook Pro) we can call it a GBP (GBook Pro).
  • 🔤 company needs to get Android running like Apple - we shouldn't have so much fragmentation. Android and security should be Android responsibility. No carrier or manufacturer hurdles to overcome. Straight from Google. Any skins bloat etc. Should be made available through the app store and be totally removable.
  • Here, here!
  • The range of Android/Chrome devices I use/want:
    - 5.5" phone (I have a Huawei p10+)
    - 9" tablet, x3 one for each of the kids, and a spare for the wife and me to share, we currently have a Nexus 7 and a Samsung kids thing (awful!)
    - 13" chromebook (I have the HP 13 G1), browsing, some content creation, but generally I prefer this device for most activities I should be able to use all my apps on all the devices. Reason I bought the HP 13 G1 is because of the promise of bringing Android apps, I am annoyed it is only available on the developer version. I don't care if it is Android or Chrome, I like both and there isn't much practical difference between the two, (other than not being able to use Android apps obviously) as Android is very powerful.
  • Jerry do you ever actually get the ear(s) of Google engineers to have discussions about this sort of thing? It seems such well thought out reason is wasted on a bunch of phone nerds. Don't get me wrong, stuff like this is the reason AC is the only dedicated tech news app on my phone. It's just frustrating to read, agree and then think it won't happen because the wrong audience is absorbing it (somewhat preaching to the choir). Would be so nice to know their are some actual Google eyes in here.
  • An updated pixel C running chrome would be a sweet device.
  • I wish blackberry and Google make the most productive and high secure tablet in the is good at software but only in entertainment side. Blackberry can build the hub into the system and have the best touch or physical keyboard on any tablet.. we want the best of both world.
  • Yep. Finally fulfill the promise of what the PlayBook could have been.
  • **** yeah they, a chrome tablet would be awesome
  • They did build one it just never got chrome.
  • Not the Pixel C. It was always planned to be Android according to people who worked on building it. That silly rumor was started because of the Pixel name, and we see how that played out
  • Jerry, it would be a dandy tablet if it were running chrome however!....also, have you heard any rumblings of a new pixel chromebook from google?
  • Try out the new Samsung pro chromebook, you'll see why they shouldn't do anything chrome related. The most half a$$ piece of tech I've ever used, sent it back within a day.
  • Lacking tablet apps on Android is hardly the issue (have you seen Instagram on the iPad?). For me, it's be abysmal performance on any and every Android tablet I've ever picked up, starting with the Xoom all the way through the Nexus 9. After a year, they all become as slow as molasses.
  • Google doesn't build anything. Zero. So you should be saying "Google should design a tablet and find a good subcontractor to build it, then re-label it and sell it under the Google brand." I'm continually amazed that Google gets credit for "building" anything.
  • If you want to get TECHNICAL...most none of the companies DON"T make anything. They should all be QUALCOMM ! I'm surprised that anyone gets credit for "building" anything besides QUALCOMM and a couple of others.
  • Yes, Google needs ChromeTab or ChromeTouch tablet devices.