It’s no secret that Google and Android tablet designers have struggled to compete against the iPad in recent years. While most tablets are still Android-based, IDC Apple’s slate is estimated to have increased the stake in early 2021. Even the Android brands that have evolved may be doing so at Huawei’s expense. The Android tablet market may not be dying, but it isn’t exactly healthy.
And this is especially concerning now that Apple has introduced iPadOS 15. The new iPad software catches on not only on the obvious Android tablet features but also on the advanced functions you usually only see from high-end rivals like Samsung. There are even some features that you find in Android tablets today. Simply put, the new platform should sound alarm bells for Google, Samsung and others in the Android ecosystem — they risk losing out on the advantages they have if they don’t take tablets more seriously.
more: With iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Apple Wants the Privacy Crown
it’s all about the details
In part, this new release is all about fixing some common glitches that might lead you to buy an Android tablet instead of looking at the iPad range. True Home Screen Widget and App Drawer? They are here. A built-in web browser with extensions? done. Apple has also replaced its bad notification system, so you won’t miss Android so much as you check your missed alerts. Those are welcome updates, but nothing earth-shattering.
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However, iPadOS 15 also rolls in some of the more esoteric features you’d expect to see in premium Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab, not the iPad. It appears that Apple has largely fixed multitasking with an interface that is often as good (and possibly better) than what you’ll find in Samsung’s One UI. There’s even a Samsung-style Quick Note feature that lets you quickly compose memos regardless of what’s on the screen. You don’t even need to hover or click a button.
Yes, the more advanced features already had counterparts in the Android tablet world for years, but they also show just how far the iPad has come. Apple has caught up to the point where it is now tackling some of the devices that Android tablets are most like. If you used to stick to an Android tablet primarily for widgets and multitasking, what do you have left to put up with now?
some (potentially) fatal blows
However, some of the new iPad features could spell a real crisis for the Android tablet sector, as they really have no competing counterparts.
The textbook example is Universal Control. If you have both an iPad and a Mac, you can not only play that iPad from your computer but also drag content between the two devices as if they were two displays for one machine. And did we mention there’s no setup involved? It has no equivalent on an Android tablet – you can sync data with a Windows PC, of course, but Apple’s approach on the iPad is much more intuitive and quick. It certainly makes a more compelling case if you’re prone to shuffling media between devices.
there’s more. The iPad will soon have an official on-device programming tool, thanks to Swift Playgrounds. Where is the Google equivalent? Focus helps you block out distractions when you’re working on or off, and it’s much more than a simple do-not-disturb toggle. Although you probably won’t buy a tablet with coding or Zen concentration as a necessity, the lack of direct Android equivalents may well raise the case for buying an iPad if they are vaguely under consideration.
Google and friends need to act fast
Despite this new software Android tablet can do a better job than any iPad, there’s still a laundry list of things to do. There is no indication that the (often awkward) filesystem is any more sophisticated. Apple’s App Store guidelines will still limit apps. And while efforts like FaceTime on the Web will help expand cross-platform support, there’s no doubt that Apple backs its services to rivals’ detriment. If you prefer total control over app defaults then an iPad is not for you.
Still, iPadOS 15 is a sign that Google, Samsung and others must move forward with urgency. The Android tablet landscape was already suffering amid a lack of native apps, slow progress on tablet-specific features, and vendors focused more on specific uses than on low-cost media players and general-purpose computing like the iPad offers. New software from Apple only worsens the situation. If Google and Friends don’t move quickly, they may leave even more ground and find it more difficult to combat their main nemesis.
And that would be a shame, even if you’re an iPad fan. Android tablet makers expand the functionality and performance of the iPad to help keep Apple honest. A concerted effort to revive the Android tablet could help the entire category by giving you more options for powerful devices. It is a victory for all.