When the Pixel tablet was first unveiled at Google I/O 2022 in early May, most people were understandably focused on how Google planned to evolve Android’s lackluster tablet segment. While devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 have their fans, Android doesn’t have enough tablet-optimized apps overall, and aspects like multitasking have desperately needed attention. Google’s announcements were promising.
Those of us who follow the smart home world have noticed a few other unique things about the Pixel tablet that could be tied to rumors of Google’s smart display plans. If this thinking proves correct, the Pixel tablet could herald the future of the smart display industry.
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Evidence on the Pixel tablet
In the few pictures that Google has shared so far, the Pixel tablet looks mostly nondescript. There’s a single camera on the back, and its overall design is similar to a hundred other Android tablets, not to mention Apple’s budget iPad model.
However, the front of the product closely resembles another Google device: the Nest Hub Max, its top-of-the-line smart display. This could simply be attributed to minimalist displays, rounded corners and landscape-oriented front cameras, which make sense in both the tablet and smart display realms. But the company seems to have deliberately opted for a white bezel, which isn’t as popular on tablets and makes more sense to continue the Nest Hub aesthetic.
A Nest Hub Max.
What’s really unusual about the Pixel tablet is a series of four dots on the back that look a lot like the magnetic smart connector found on some iPad models. Apple’s technology allows people to connect accessories without resorting to Bluetooth or USB connections, or even using a separate charge.
Up until now, the iPad’s Smart Connector has primarily been used for keyboard cases, and if that’s all the Pixel Tablet uses its connector for, it’s still welcome. But amid rumors of smart display plans, there’s a chance Google has higher ambitions.
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The smart display rumors
In March of this year, 9to5Google reported that Google is working on a Nest Hub with a “dockable tablet form factor” where the screen “detaches from a base/speaker.” That would solve the biggest problem with smart displays, which is the limited use of connected screens. They can be great as bedside, office or kitchen companions, but over several feet away they are reduced to smart speakers.
This report claimed that Google intends to launch its product later in 2022. On the surface, this appears to be dooming any connection with the Pixel tablet – which isn’t scheduled to ship until sometime in 2023 – but release windows change frequently, and there’s a hypothetical possibility that we’ll see a scaled-down version of the Pixel tablet Designs for a Nest Hub.
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Lenovo has already tried something similar several times, one example being the Smart Tab M10 HD. However, this product invoked Google Assistant’s ambient mode when docked, rather than a true smart display interface, which is what users are likely to expect from a Google-made device in terms of usability.
Google could bridge the gap between tablets and smart displays by embedding its Nest Hub UI in future versions of Android, or vice versa.
Mind you, the company appears to be taking existing Nest Hubs in a more tablet-like direction. In recent months, Google has updated its user interface with an app bar opened by swiping from the bottom of the screen, and a more fully-featured web browser, including a Gboard-style onscreen keyboard.
This is even more speculation, but it could be that Google is hoping to bridge the gap by including its Nest Hub interface in future versions of Android, or vice versa. Something like the Pixel tablet can switch to a Nest Hub mode by default on docking, but switch to standard Android on pickup.
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Why tablet + display hybrids could be the future
Roger Fingas / Android Authority
A Fire tablet running in Show Mode in Amazon’s defunct Show Mode charging station.
Above all, the practical appeal can hardly be denied. While a (quality) hybrid product won’t come cheap per se, it kills two birds with one stone by delivering both a smart display and something you can use for handheld entertainment and productivity. If the Pixel tablet becomes as “premium” as Google suggests, it could actually kill three birds and serve as a true laptop replacement.
If you leave the poor birds alone for a moment, Google could be under pressure to beat Amazon. Amazon is its main competitor in smart displays via the Echo Show line, and has long offered a “Show Mode” on Fire tablets, complete with Alexa voice control and a visual interface to match. And it once offered a speakerless charging dock for show mode. It could only be a matter of time before Amazon puts two and two together while Google is already scrambling to increase Amazon’s share of the smart home market.
It could only be a matter of time before Amazon starts assembling its Echo Show and Fire tablet lines.
Apple is also ambiguously rumored to be getting into the smart display game. It’s believed to be headed in a different direction — perhaps with a TV-connected product similar to Meta’s Portal TV — but the mere threat of taking on Apple and Amazon at the same time could start a fire under the feet of Google executives. Luckily for them, there’s no sign that Apple is considering a speaker dock or smart display mode for iPads just yet.
Would a smart display dock option (adding a speaker and power) make the Pixel tablet more appealing to you?
Will hybrids conquer the smart display market?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Not quite, I would expect, and while they could be the future, they could easily end up as a niche option. Static displays are likely to stay cheaper from spec to spec, so they’re bound to attract buyers who don’t have a big budget and can get away with something stationary. A second-gen Nest Hub is only $100, and the one I have has a permanent spot on my nightstand for sleep tracking, smart home control, and bedtime videos. It would only complicate things if I had to worry about my four year old walking around in it.
Where I see hybrids gaining market share is in the high-end market, represented by devices like the Nest Hub Max and the Echo Show 10. Those products cost over $200 each — which is likely far cheaper than the Pixel tablet, but that’s a threshold where you start to wonder if a static smart display is the best use of your money. A $300, $400, or even $500 hybrid doesn’t sound so bad if you can justify it as a standalone tablet purchase first.
Where I see hybrids gaining market share is in the high-end market.
Even without a speaker/charging dock, the Pixel tablet could cost more. But adding the option – I don’t expect one to be bundled – would increase the appeal of Google’s ecosystem. In theory, you could buy multiple docks and just take your tablet anywhere you want to set up shop instead of buying two or three displays. I suppose we’ll see what Google actually has in store over the next few months.
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