For most of us, Google I/O 2022 was all about product announcements. We are consumers and we like to spend our money on tech gadgets like phones, tablets, and smartwatches. But Google I/O is, and always has been, a developer conference.
Google takes its time in the spotlight showing consumer-facing things to keep us interested, but the majority of the time is spent showing the improvements and new tools developers are using to build Android apps. Apps are what make a software platform like Android viable, after all. Rest in peace, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, WebOS and everything in between.
There was a theme in most core development sessions in 2022 and it was about writing and optimizing apps for larger screens. Whether Google shows how “easy” it is to create the right interface for the right screen size or how a developer can take advantage of a larger footprint, Google has really pushed the tablet and the foldable angle in 2022 .
We’ll even see a Pixel tablet in 2023 to drive the point home. It seems that after a hiatus, Google is once again caring about apps for the big screen.
Try and try again
Google never really stopped caring about apps on larger screens, but that seemed like it. While most of us think of an Android tablet when we talk about a big screen device, for Google that device was a Chromebook. Or even a Chrome tablet.
Chrome OS devices run Android apps as well or better than any phone or tablet and they share the same challenges and issues when it comes to using an app designed for a phone-sized screen on something bigger. For the most part, Android apps work on a Chromebook, but they don’t always run smoothly or look great.
Google has tried to fix this problem; the company even released an overpriced Chrome tablet in the Pixel Slate so developers could spend too much money “fixing” app problems no one was having. You see, Android is king when it comes to phones – around 80% of the world’s smartphones are Android. But when you compare the numbers, very few people buy Android tablets or run Android apps on a Chromebook.
Developers should take the time to make most of their end users happy with their work. That means spending time and money refining a smartphone app. Everyone reading this has an app on their phone that they use a lot and love what the developer has done with it. Every app developer, big or small, wants to be the person or people behind that app you love.
I hear some people thinking right now, “What about foldables?” Well, what about them?
They are cool and will probably be the future of the smartphone once they can be mass-produced at affordable prices. That moment may be near, but until then, foldable phones, whether they flip, fold, bend or roll, aren’t driving the Android app ecosystem. The cheap and ordinary glass slab is still the smartphone market for most of the world and most of the developers working there.
Is a Pixel tablet enough?
I do not know. That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? If I had to guess, I’d say a Pixel tablet won’t change anything when it comes to developers taking larger screens more seriously. It could serve as an educational tool for Google, which is great, but the Pixel 2023 tablet is too small too late. For him to have a chance to make a difference, he had to come three years ago.
Developers can already buy a great tablet from Samsung if they want to work on optimizing for larger screens, which means consumers can buy a great tablet too. They even come in several price points to work for almost anyone who wants one. The Galaxy Tab S series might be the best Android tablet, but there are plenty of others to choose from.
Another alternative is for Google to go brutal, piss off all of its hardware partners, alienate some of its users, and Obligate developers to create special apps for tablets and foldables. It’s ugly and drastic, but it works – the iPad proves it.
Google isn’t Apple and wouldn’t get away with it that easily. Apple has a relatively small market share, which allows it to circumvent anti-competitive legislation compared to Google. Apple is also Apple’s only hardware customer, so there won’t be any backlash from phone makers.
Google really can’t do what Apple did when it made the iPad ecosystem work the way it does.
We can fix it and we will
What will work are our wallets. App developers will always try to make things we like well enough to use every day. That’s what they should be doing, really. Building apps and writing software just seems like an easy way to make a living if you’ve never done it, and the saying to work smarter not harder says developers should care about the products you most of us use.
Today, these products are “small” screen smartphones. Some are cheap, some are absurdly expensive, but they’re all smaller devices with similar aspect ratios and designed to be used in just two orientations.
One day that might change – I think it will – and we’ll have phones that fold or open into tablets or tablets that fold into phones or some combination that we haven’t seen yet. The convenience is already there and you can have a device that’s easy to carry around or use on the subway as well as a device that works great for watching videos on the couch, and it’s actually the same device.
Phone makers care about the foldable market and eventually we’ll all see one we want to buy. This will make it easy for the developer to worry about optimizing their app for a bigger screen because that’s what everyone uses.
Hopefully Google is ready for this when the time comes.