Opinion: Did iPadOS kill the Pixel Slate?
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Google has a had a tough time trying to compete with Apple's all-conquering iPad, whether with its own tablets or with tablets made by partners running Android, or more recently Chrome OS. News that it has officially killed off any plans for a successor to the Pixel Slate while not unexpected, is nonetheless a blow as it is always great to have competition to drive advancements across competitors.
In fact, in many ways, the arrival of iPadOS and several of its new features are a direct response to the Pixel Slate, highlighting the benefit of healthy market competition. Yet, ironically, that could have been what ended up killing off the Pixel Slate for good as well. That the iPad is finally much more capable of replacing a laptop is, perhaps, more than anything due to the feature set that the Pixel Slate brought to the market. Its support for full desktop browser coupled with solid multitasking capabilities and a robust file system raised the bar for light-weight mobility-focused operating systems.
Now, iPadOS, for the first time, finally offers a "desktop-class" Safari browser that can handle web app versions of Google Docs and Microsoft's Office, among others. This was a key advantage of Chrome OS had over iOS/iPad OS which has effectively been nullified. Similarly, iPadOS now offers even more advanced multitasking capabilities and the ability to use external storage along with a more robust file system for the first time. Again, these are key features that snuff out key differentiators of the Pixel Slate.
However, one area that the Pixel Slate could never compete with the iPad (and this remains true for Android tablets too) is in the area of tablet optimized apps. Support for Android apps is a key selling point of the Pixel Slate, but that didn't magically make these apps tablet apps. It added utility, for sure, but the vast majority of Android apps are simply oversized smartphone apps. This has long been a key advantage that Apple has had over Android tablets and this didn't change with the arrival of the Pixel Slate. This is also the reason why Windows 10-based tablets are few in number as well -- poor touch-first app support.
After iPadOS, the one area where the Pixel Slate still has a minor advantage is with mouse support integrated into the keyboard cover. Although iPadOS brings a form of mouse support to the iPad, it is very much an accessibility feature. Apple still insists that the iPad is a touch-first UI (you can count the Apple Pencil as touch-first implement). To this extent the new touch-based 'cursor navigation', 'multiselect' and 'intelligent text selection' features in iPadOS look promising. Apple may have finally nailed touch-based interaction to the point where full mouse support is no longer something that one feels would be better accomplished on an iPad with a mouse.
In the end, however, the Pixel Slate just didn't sell well enough to justify a sequel -- iPadOS or not. We learnt back in March that Google had already made the decision to scale back the "Create" division responsible for the Pixel Slate making any potential sequels a lot less likely. The Pixel Slate had high-end specifications and a high-end price to match, which is the type of hardware that Apple is far better at selling. However, I for one am glad that Google made the Pixel Slate because the iPad is now much better for its existence. While competition is great, so too is choice, and the demise of the slate means one less alternative on the market. Let's hope that other OEMs like HP and Acer don't give up on Chrome OS-based tablets. While iPadOS may not have exclusively brought about the end of the Pixel Slate line, it almost certainly put the final nail in its coffin.