Chrome OS tablets are still a pretty new thing here at the end of 2018. After all, we didn’t see the first true Chrome OS tablet until the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 hit the scene in the early parts of summer. Six months is hardly enough time for a new form factor to fully emerge in an existing ecosystem, yet we can see the writing on the wall that Google is fully intent on making Chrome OS feel very much at home on tablets moving forward.
Just take the release of this year’s flagship Chrome OS device #madebyGoogle: the Pixel Slate. Sure, the reviews are all over the place for this hardware right now (let’s not forget the Pixelbook was also met with a less-than-stellar reception), but one thing is undeniable with this hardware decision: Google is invested in the idea of Chrome OS on tablets.
If the Pixelbook was the torch-bearer for Assistant and Android on Chrome OS, the Pixel Slate is definitely the device Google is using to push into full-blown tablet territory. It needs work, that much is for sure. But the larger changes in the OS to accommodate tablet use have only been around for a few months at this point, so the entire effort will look much different in another 3-6 months.
In the meantime, small changes will show up and become part of the overall user experience as we push into 2019, and one of those new features is for tablets and tablets only. We’re all very familiar with the ability to opt for a desktop version of a website on our phone. I personally use it multiple times per week to look at a site the way I’d see it on my Chromebook. The reasoning is quite clear; desktop sites often have features and info that are hidden or removed for the mobile counterpart. Sometimes my need for function outweighs the need for a nice, touch-friendly UI.
In those instances, I always opt for the desktop version of a site.
But what about the other way around? What if you wanted the mobile version of a site instead? The newest tablet feature on offer from Google is the ability to actually request the tablet form of a website if what you are seeing on your screen looks a bit off.
If you’ve not used a 10-inch Chrome OS tablet, you’d be forgiven for never having seen the need for this feature and the issue at hand. After all, there’s really only one 10-inch Chrome OS tablet, so chances are you’ve never even seen one in real life. But, if you have, then you know exactly what problem I’m talking about the minute you begin browsing the web for just a bit. I’ll use Google’s own site for reference. Check out these two pics:
As you can see in the first image, text on screen looks quite small. I can tell you that in real life with the tablet in my hand, it looks even worse than the pictures show. As a matter of fact, it feels very similar to what my Pixel 3 feels like when I request a desktop site: almost like the rendered site wasn’t made for this screen at all.
In the second photo, you can see what the same search results look like after I’ve selected “Request Tablet Site” from Chrome’s 3-dot menu. It is a not-so-subtle change that makes a huge difference on a screen this size. 10-inch tablets still feel like mobile devices regardless of how much we try to dress them up as laptops. Sure, it is approaching the largest of sizes I’d refer to as a mobile device, but it is still more in the realm of smartphone than laptop.
Once we get above this size, however, I don’t think this feature is all that worthwhile. On the Pixel Slate, for instance, I don’t feel the need for a tablet UI as the screen is large enough to feel comfortable to use native versions of websites with ease.
So, what is Google doing here?
I’d freely assume that the addition of this feature (which is currently in the Developer Channel) is a harbinger of coming devices in 2019. If you were Google and you knew there were a bunch of 10-12 inch tablet devices getting ready to hit the market in the next 6 months, wouldn’t you want to make sure those devices had the best possible browsing experience? Wouldn’t you want iPad users to pick up one of these Chrome OS tablets, browse the web, and feel just like what they are used to?
It would make a lot of sense, and that is why I believe this little feature isn’t just another random addition to Chrome OS. I think it and the introduction of the Pixel Slate are solid markers that we’re going to see Chrome OS morph into a great tablet OS over the course of 2019 and, along with the changes, we’re going to see lots of great tablets from many manufacturers along the way.