How the OnePlus Pad Might Finally Give Us a Worthy iPad Alternative

It changes the face of Android tablets

  • Phone maker OnePlus plans to announce an Android tablet on February 7.
  • Android tablets are mostly junk, thanks to a lack of good apps.
  • Google’s Pixel Tablet may provide the momentum needed to compete with Apple.
A child standing at a kitchen counter using a tablet.

Annie Spratt / Unsplash

This might finally be the year that Android tablets get good. 

OnePlus is about to launch its OnePlus Pad, an Android-based tablet that will complement its capable smartphones. It'll have an aluminum shell, a central rear camera, and a "halo green" color scheme. But the hardware is the least important part. Historically, Android tablets have been just terrible, and that's down to a couple of things. Can OnePlus reverse this trajectory? 

"There is no denying that Android tablets are a considerably lower quality product when compared to their Apple counterparts. This is largely because Android manufacturers don't have as much control over how their software ends up looking and working, which often results in inferior apps and an overall less user-friendly experience," John Xie, CEO and co-founder of software company Taskade, told Lifewire via email.

A Big Phone

One problem facing Android tablets is that they are just big phones. The iPad has a rich and varied range of apps that are either iPhone apps rethought for the bigger screen or iPad-first (and iPad-only) apps, Android tablet apps tend to be just big phone apps, with little or no accommodation for the larger screen.

This means that Android tablets are only good for kids to use or for grown-ups to watch YouTube videos while cooking. This lack of interest in the hardware means, in turn, that there’s not much point in spending resources on making proper tablet apps. It’s the classic chicken and egg situation.

An engineer using a tablet in a manufacturing environment.

Cravetiger / Getty Images

At the same time, Apple’s iPad pricing has been aggressive. Unlike the iPhone, which is plain expensive, entry-level iPads have always been cheap enough even for budget-conscious buyers—at least until the latest low-end iPad was launched at $120 more than the model it replaced. Until these changes, the iPad was a relatively easy sell for the tablet-curious, especially when you factor in the far superior app ecosystem, build quality, and all the other privacy and convenience benefits of using Apple gear.

So any serious Android tablet maker has its work cut out. 

OnePlus One

OnePlus began as a maker of excellent Android phones that could rival the flagship models of Samsung and Google but for a lower price. Then it morphed into a rival in that market, selling good phones for the same prices as rivals. Now it looks set to challenge the tablet market, which could be easier thanks to the low quality competition, but also a challenge because the software for Android tablets is equally spotty. 

OnePlus might opt to use a version of its OxygenOS, the custom UI it uses on its phones. If it gets this right, then this could really lead to the tablet taking off. 

"OnePlus seems to be well on their way to changing the perception of Android tablets once and for all as it has updated the UI (user interface) to be more like that found on iPhone devices which makes using the device more seamless and intuitive than ever before," says Xie. 

A tablet with a wire framing app open and a stylus sitting on the table next to it.

Sahand Babali / Unsplash

This will be great for the stock, built-in apps that OnePlus redesigns for a larger screen, but it won't mean much if app makers don't get on board. Even the iPad has, through its history, had a hard time convincing developers to support it. Instagram famously still does not have an iPad-native app. You're stuck using the iPhone version (or the superior web version). 

The one company that might be able to fix this is Google because it has ultimate control of the Android OS. 

"An ideal Android tablet would have better hardware, more tablet-specific software, and direct support from Google. OnePlus might be able to pull this off due to its commitment to providing high-quality hardware, software, and customer service," software developer Mukesh Sharma told Lifewire via email. 

So far, Google has seen its Chromebooks as the best alternative to an iPad, but that could be changing this year, with a possible Pixel Tablet on the way. And if it can tie that launch in with some tablet-first apps and even better tablet-app-making tools for developers, then we might be onto something. This year could end up being the year the iPad finally gets some competition.

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