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.
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.