Google’s first-party Android tablet apps disappoint

I want to use a tablet. In this fantasy, I was using a large screen to quickly scroll through tweets, email, news, and other information streams during the day’s breaks (breakfast, lunch, etc.). With the release of Android 12L and the imminent launch of updates and/or new devices, I tried to live this dream. The whole time I was aware of Google’s track record, but wasn’t ready for first-party apps to disappoint me as much as they did.

the bad |

Google to save information

While you might assume that Keep’s “multi-column” view, which is a more interesting way on phones to look at a lot of notes than a list, naturally expands to larger screens, it’s actually annoying on tablets. You get four columns which makes it hard to understand the reverse chronological order. Instead of index cards in the pinboard analogy, a simple two-column approach with a menu on the left and notes content next to it would have been much better in this case.

Meanwhile, the actual note-taking display is a pain, as on the web it doesn’t take up the entire screen, but pops up in the middle with the background grid still visible. It’s just an unfocused experience that complicates the task that needs to be straightforward.

Google Voice, Home and more

A lot of Google’s first-party tablet experiences still extend beyond mobile apps. Google Voice is guilty of this even with two columns for the desktop site and iPad app. Extended mobile apps should no longer exist in 2022.

Other apps guilty of this include Google Home (and its ridiculously extended two-component bottom bar), Contacts (the main view), Duo, Fit, and One. Content stretched in landscape orientation is difficult to read.

google watch

While tablets don’t act as a morning alarm for most people, I found the Google Clock layout options to be a real missed opportunity. On most tabs, Google puts the app’s contents on the left, while there’s a right sidebar for Floating Action Button (FAB) types. As shown in the Alarm, Timer, and Stopwatch tabs, this FAB only occupies a single space.

The clock tab is even weirder as your current time zone occupies the first of three columns. In the middle is a list of different cities, while the FAB is the last again with plenty of space left. The list was the most creative way to show a lot of cities.


The tablet versions of these apps are not good. Looks nice but is too busy (Keep) or requires reading from the left end of the screen to the right (Audio). Either way, I’d prefer to use my phone or – if offered – use the letterboxed app, something Android 12L offers for non-optimized apps. In this way, the application meets comfort requirements with close touch targets. The extended tablet app is, in my opinion, no better than the phone client that everything works as intended.


main |

Chrom

Chrome on tablets is just like the desktop version, and I’m mostly fine with that. The tab bar gets tricky when you have a lot of pages open and it’s possible that Google has added grid view by now.

Google App, Drive, News and Podcasts

These apps mercifully list articles/stories, files/folders, podcasts, etc. using two columns instead of one big list.

Play Store

Google Play tablet enhancements are only present on the home screen with the navigation rail variant. Of course, this is obviously only the bottom bar, while the main big screen improvement is in the form of all the top tabs being fully displayed below the search field. Like the pictures, this looks more like the Play Store website than an enhanced tablet experience. In the meantime, the lists have been greatly extended.


There is nothing exceptional about these apps. Two-column layouts should be minimal in terms of how to take advantage of increased screen space. Besides Chrome, the apps in the list above don’t seem to have other improvements that reflect a huge commitment to the tablet experience.


good |

gmail

Gmail is one of Google’s main applications and is one of the applications that I consider to be updated recently, if not actively. Besides Material You, the company last year integrated a full chat client into it.

It features a straightforward two-column layout with a menu on the left and email contents on the right. This interface is so straightforward that Google should not receive any points for it in a perfect world, but the work is clearly laid out.

Neat design touches include how the toolbar pops out of the search field when you click on the sender’s avatar for the always-view buttons to archive and delete and mark “unread” and “go to folder” in the upper right corner.

However, it is not without its errors, the message list does not highlight the current email you see after archiving and the aforementioned “Go to folder” button sometimes disappears in the full list.

Google Maps

Google Maps is simply a good app for browsing the literal world. The home screen is light on the UI with only a search bar on the left and a layer switcher on the top right, although the bottom is a bit clunky for the amount of space it takes up. Clicking a field to search loads a column of results and lists that slide away when not needed.

Google Photos

Like maps, content informs the basic display of Google Images. There is a commuter rail on the left instead of the lower bar that takes away from the road. If there is one nitpick, I can’t help but think I use the desktop website every time I use the tablet client. It’s about the app bar that doesn’t look like Android.

youtube music

YouTube Music is on the good – not the primary – list because of the Now Playing screen that’s split between controls and the next queue. However, there is an annoying lack of bottom padding in the player half.

The Home tab featuring rotating motion groups is mercifully broken up with different sized shelf layouts that break up the monotony. Additionally, the YTMusic team is hinting at more tablet updates in the future.

Youtube

Like the music version, the player screen with the list of additional videos on the right that is also used to show the description of the video is very good. It’s basically the website, right down to the widget that is docked when browsing the feed tab. However, YouTube avoids the excessive desktop feeling that Google Photos suffers from.


the great |

Google Calendar

My favorite Google app on Android tablets is Calendar. For starters, month and week deals get the space they need to browse events at a glance. Size here doesn’t hurt.

However, the real star of the show is the day and schedule view where you can see the entire month – which acts as a date switcher – on the left, while there is a menu next to it. The background is kept alive by the distinctive monthly calendar illustrations – at this point – that are unique to mobile devices.

Although there is clear reuse from the website, the Calendar team has purposefully distinguished the app for tablets which is a rarity for Google.


What then

Besides the straightforward idea of ​​how to use the extra screen real estate, developers of apps listed in the bad and essential sections would do well to consider what larger touch surfaces allow. It can’t just be displaying more information. This presentation should be presented carefully and in a delightfully smart way.

Google needs first-party tablet apps to serve as a guide, if not a model, for third-party developers. The company’s wide range of apps covers many categories of experiences (feeds, browsing, tools, etc.) and good apps for each will go a long way to inspiring others to build their own experiences.

Similar to the relative speed Google has put forth for Material You for its largest app, such a boost is essential for tablet experiences. This is necessary for any first-party device or renewed payment that calls “tablet first apps” that take advantage of the design. Google needs a walk before it can get to work, and the first-party apps are a good indication that they’re satisfied with the tablet this time around.

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