What you need to know from that Pixel C Reddit AMA

Google's Pixel team this week took to Reddit for an AMA (that's "ask me anything," for those not in the know). AMA's are an excellent way to promote things, and for fans of those things to interact with the folks who make the things that are being promoted. Ask a good question, and maybe it'll be answered.

And in this case it was interesting to get even more confirmation that perhaps the Pixel C was destined for something more than life as a well-built Android tablet with an optional keyboard — but things went a little off the rails somewhere along the way.

There weren't really any jaw-droppers here — the closest things to headline-worthy answers really were just confirmations of things we've known for months — but some news is better than none.

So let's flip through the best of the best.

Pixel C

On Android N, and multiwindow

GM: We're working hard on a range of enhancements for Android in this form-factor - there are many things, like multiwindow, that we've been spending a lot of time on - hopefully we can share more about this soon.

DisplayPort support over Type C is being worked on but we don't have a release date yet.

2) AB: We're working on lots of things right now for N that, of course, we wish we had, you know, yesterday. But we'd spoil the surprise of N if we shared all of them. Split screen is in the works!

This is the big one that's been getting all the headlines. Yes, folks are working on things for N — the next major version of Android, which comes sequentially after M (for Marshmallow), which is what we're on now. And we've known for months that they're working on multiwindow — it was in the first M Developer Preview over the summer before being pulled in the second preview. But remember that it wasn't even a user-facing thing in that first developer preview — you had to change the build.prop to get it to show at all. It's basically app ops all over again. (And I'm not sure I'd read that answer as "Split screen is coming in N." That's a good year away. Google can't wait that long to make the Pixel C more interesting.)

For me, DisplayPort support is the really cool feature referenced. Niche, sure. But very cool. The Pixel C would be a great second screen.

On other features that didn't make it ...

KT: For double tap [to wake], we wanted to optimize for sleep battery life. The double tap drained the battery faster by leaving part of the touch screen enabled. If you use with the keyboard, it will wake when opened. We are working on always-on "Ok Google" support for a future update.

I'd love to see double-tap to wake, too. But that's one of those features we've seen come and go on all sorts of devices.

The bigger question is what happened to the always-listening mode. This one's the real head-scratcher, and what I think points to larger issues with the purpose of the Pixel C in general, and the timing of the finished software in particular. The Pixel C presentation in late September was relatively quick, closing out the final 8 minutes of the event. There was a lot to cram in there. But the four microphones on top of the tablet got their own call-out.

Marshmallow makes voice input even more powerful. And while your phone is often close by, you maybe leave your tablet on the coffee table, or on a desk. So to enable far-field voice input, we've added four microphones, so now you can have voice interactions from across the room.

Only, you can't. At least not until the table is awakened. That's a pretty big thing to point out but not have ready two months later.

On software updates ...

"We expect to update Pixel C on regular cadence lining up with the monthly security updates for Android"

Makes sense, and was announced as "every six weeks" at Google's event in September. Not really new. This is an Android tablet from Google. Putting "Pixel" in the name shouldn't preclude it from the same update expectations we have for the Nexus line. And Google releasing factory restore images for the Pixel C pretty much puts it in line with Nexus in that respect.

On applications being "compatible" with tablets

"We're spending a lot of time working with developers to get better and more awesome tablet apps, but it is definitely a chicken-egg problem, and we think a key driver is awesome hardware (like the Pixel-C :)"

It's a matter of coding, period. There's no reason why an app can't have a good tablet layout, should the developer want to add it in. But that costs time and money. Landscape orientation isn't new to the Pixel C. It's just far more pronounced. From the time you first power on the Pixel C you know that it's meant to be held horizontally.

The problem here is twofold. There are some apps that just don't work well in landscape. I'll use our own Android Central app as an example of one that's functional, but not really optimized for a tablet layout, particularly in landscape. Slack — the uber-popular work chat service — is another example. Large images are great. Full-screen images in chat at the expense of everything else should be avoided, and is nothing that can't be fixed.

But then you have apps like Instagram that only work in portrait, with the screen oriented vertically. (And Slack, by the way, forces its setup screens to vertical, which isn't fun.)

How do you fix this? Google can help with developer relations and by placing a greater emphasis on better design for large screens (tablets) and landscape orientation. And developers can just do the right thing. But the Pixel team is right. It's a chicken-and-the-egg thing. If only 15 percent of your app's users are on tablets, should you spend more development cycles on that? Or in other areas.

On not having "real" support for a stylus:

"There are definitely passive styluses that work well with Pixel C. For this version of the product, we decided to focus on the keyboard in particular versus, say, an active stylus."

Can't have everything. I agree that better stylus support would be a great thing. But the keyboard is an obvious focus here. (And it's pretty darn good.)

On some of the standout hardware

BL: On the USB side of things, Pixel C stands out in the following ways : 1) Type-C! 2) USB 3.1 Host & Client mode 3) USB PD fast charging for 24W 4) USB Debug Accessory mode. KT: Tablets are all about the display. Pixel C has a very high-resolution 2560x1800 display with 308 PPI. It's also brighter than other tablets at 500 nits. Pixel C is also the first Android tablet that ships with Marshmallow and will receive updates directly from Google.

USB Type-C is great, and basically should be expected in any top-end product at this point. USB 3.1 host and client mode will let you charge other devices with your pixel. Or serve as an ethernet port. Or other fun things like that. Potential, really, is what it means. (And same goes for USB Debug Accessory Mode.) Fast charging is obvious, and obviously good.

And I can't say enough about this display. The Pixel team absolutely should be congratulated for that.

From our perspective, that's the meat of the AMA. There were a handful of other answers on less technical topics — and the entire AMA absolutely is worth a read. So be sure to check it out.

Phil Nickinson
  • You would think an Android centric app like "androidcentral" would be optimized for android tablets. This site tells you straight away why android tablet apps will never hold a candle to apple tablet apps. If the android fan boys don't even optimize their own apps then why would any other developer do it?
  • For the exact same reasons, perhaps?
  • Keep paying 3x what hardware is worth just so you fit in with your pack of ignorant and lazy hipsters then. Your loss sheep.
  • You kind of described the Pixel C and Android fans..
  • Pointless reply, just for the sake of attackig... It doesn't matter what hardware you have if things don't work right on it Posted via the Android Central App
  • I bought a pixel c and its arriving today. Its not a chicken and egg thing if the head chickens, like Android Central, don't even take the time to optimize for tablets then why would regular Devs do it? Your response is ignorant to the problem.
  • I have a tough time justifying any tablet. My phone has a decent size screen that I enjoy reading and looking through apps on, and if I want a much larger screen or need to get real work done, I pick up my MacBook Pro. It's hard to imagine where I could fit a tablet into my life. It seems like the hassle of managing one more device that needs to be set up and updated and charged outweighs the benefit of having an in between device size. That said, if you're a tablet person, the Pixel C looks pretty great.
  • We keep tablets in two rooms that are frequented by pretty much everybody that lives here or visits. I'll let you figure it out. :) Otherwise, yeah, not a tablet-centric family either.
  • I have two tablets...A 2012 Nexus 7 and a (whatever year) ipad mini. They are used exclusively by my 4 and 6 year old kids. That's really the only use we have for them. I use a Surface Pro 3 or my phone and my wife uses a Windows 10 laptop to get work done. Tablets can have a place but it is a very narrow use scenario for a lot of people I think.
  • This is the tablet use scenario for me... Come home from work, tap phone on NFC sticker with "Home" profile, place phone on wireless charging pad, and pickup my tablet on turn on Auto Sync... Wow! LG G2, SD 800 powerhouse.
    (The Sprint Fanboy)
  • So is the USB C on the pixel C USB 3.0/3.1 based, or is it still USB 2.0 like the nexus phones? I'm not quite sure what the reference to USB 3.1 was in the article. Just seems like incorporates the feature of USB 3.1 that allows power to flow both ways, but could still be USB 2.0 transfer rates? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Man you're a downer Phil :( Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • lol. I've never been accused of that before. But, really there just wasn't anything new here. Still glad they did it though.
  • Double tap to wake is so engrained in my memory, that I double tap my laptop to wake it up and am confused when it doesn't. As for tablet optimised apps, Google should take a look at its own apps. YouTube is a mess, and far from awesome on a tablet. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't want them to re design the YouTube app, just because it will be something worse. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Sigh, sadly I agree. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's far from awesome on anything, that includes iPad, iPhones, Android phones & tabs, and don't even get me started on the non existent windows phone version, it leaves only the knock offs, and they are garbage. Computer browser you tube is the only tolerable version... For me, YMMV... For you! Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's been far from awesome since the 2012 redesign. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Totally agree. The phone app is garbage, and the tablet app is mostly just the phone app but bigger. Haven't used the iOS versions but can quite believe it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Any comment on all of the (deleted) entries on the AMA?
  • Not without seeing what was deleted, no. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This has been pointed out by AC in other places, but what bothers me most about the whole tablet-optimized apps thing is how inconsistent Google's own apps are at this. There are great tablet optimized apps from Google like Gmail or YouTube. Others are responsive but not customized for the screen size, like Play Music or Movies and TV. Then there are apps like Hangouts or News and Weather. Lots of unused space gets mixed with a lack of context or extra information on screen. News naturally fits a multi column view as well as summaries that expand into a full view. Messaging should support context, and Gmail shows what it could be on a tablet. I can't knock Slack for lacking tablet support on Google's tablet platform when Google can't deliver one for its own built in app.
  • Stopped reading when you said the YouTube app was a good tablet app Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Gmail yes. YouTube nooo. Play music they could fix by moving the Now Playing bar from the bottom to the right, and making it wider. That's all it would take. But they've made no effort at all. Google's apps are a classic example of why there aren't enough good tablet apps. If Google can't even lead by example, how can others follow. They've done so much with material design and getting developers to adopt it's look. If they put as much effort into layout, they could make a lot of progress. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I loved my Nexus 7 (2013), but after I got the surface book there is just no reason for another device.
  • I liked my Chevy Cruze, but after I got my Mercedes there is just no reason for another device. Comparing $600 device to a $1500 to $3000 device makes little sense.
  • Ok I get your point.. What I was trying to say though is that 2-in-1s make dedicated tablets pointless.
  • The Pixel C definitely isn't for me, but it does look like a really nice piece of hardware. Nexus 6
  • Re: tablet comparability Google's APIs are extremely convoluted due to fragmentation. Google needs to tell devs to *only* code against "support" and "appcompat" libraries. In fact, due to fragmentation, they shouldn't even have 'platform-native' libraries. It should ALL be compat libs. There should be no getXResource() method, you should only have getSupportXResource(). If you happen to be on a phone that doesn't need support then you get a native implementation... But you *still* call getSupport...(). If you start coding to a particular (as per their recomendation, 80 or 90%+ Google Play market share API -- e.g. Api 16 or maybe 18), then the process of converting your code to use appcompat is ridiculous. Simple things like the order of lines of code can break your app when you move to compat apis and appcompat themes. (example: using an appcompat theme means you can't set screen decorations after you call the superclass onCreate method in your Activity, even though typical coding best practice dictates you call your superclass in the first line of an overridden method... This is just one example). I'm so busy fixing issues to make the move to material design using appcompat that I don't have time to even contemplate tablet compatability. I'm glad we didn't initially make a huge effort for tablet comparability, as that would have just meant even *more* refactoring to do. Future Android devs: never use libraries native to the min api you target ... Always use support/compatability libraries. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Hate to say it but the problem could be fixed if Google took more control over hardware like the Pixel C. They need to do away with third party manufacturers like that other company decided to do from the get go.