Like the original Chromebook Pixel, the Pixel C (which became available on the Google Store for a starting price of $499.99 yesterday) leaves many people scratching their heads. The usual criticism is that the device is too expensive for what it is, a high-end tablet hybrid meant for productivity—only one that lacks the requisite software. You could say this dichotomy is part of the Pixel brand.
Today the Pixel C team held an hour-long Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) from 11 to 12 PM PT. The crew consists of Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP Android and ChromeOS; Andrew Bowers, Director for Consumer Hardware; Glen Murphy, Director of UX for Android and Chrome; Kevin Tom, Product Manager for Pixel C; Puneet Kumar, Software Director for Pixel C; and Benson Leung, Software Engineer. Bowers fielded most of the questions, with other teammates occasionally chiming in.
The Pixel C's name was one of the areas covered. The C stands for Convertible. As for why this is an Android-powered Pixel tablet, as opposed to a Nexus, Murphy's answer was simple: "...Pixel is Google designed hardware; Nexus is hardware we work closely with partners to design."
The Pixel C lacks some existing features that some potential buyers have come to expect from high-end devices, such as double-tap-to-wake and "OK Google" hotword support. Tom explained that the team left off the former because it drained the battery too quickly. Also, if used in conjunction with the keyboard, the tablet wakes when opened. As for "OK Google," it's in the works for a future update.
That's not all that's in store for the future. The team is working on DisplayPort support over Type C, though that isn't ready yet. Members believe the Pixel C will get much better with Android N due to unnamed features that are in the works. As we've seen in the past, split screen support is in development, and the team wishes it could have been part of the Pixel C experience at launch.
"We're working on lots of things right now for N that, of course, we wish we had, you know, yesterday. But we'd spoil the surprise of N if we shared all of them. Split screen is in the works!"
— Andrew Bowers, Director for Consumer Hardware
The Pixel C comes with an unlockable bootloader with the capability of booting an alternate OS, something else that should be more exciting in the future than the present. The firmware, Coreboot, is open source, and like other Nexus devices, the Pixel C will be supported on AOSP. The tablet is set to receive updates on a schedule that lines up with Android's monthly security updates.
Redditors pitched the Pixel C folks a number of questions related to Android's tablet app problem, and the team expressed that it was well aware of the situation. It hopes to see things improved and believes releasing stellar hardware will help move things along.
We're spending a lot of time working with developers to get better and more awesome tablet apps, but it is definitely a chicken-egg problem, and we think a key driver is awesome hardware (like the Pixel-C :)
— Glen Murphy, Director of UX for Android and Chrome
Thing is, Android has seen no shortage of 10-inch tablets. Back in the Honeycomb days, the hardware existed—it just didn't sell in large enough numbers to incentivize developers. The Pixel C is hardly expected to change that. But just as the Chromebook Pixel preceded a better class of Chrome OS machines like the Asus Chromebook Flip and the Dell Chromebook 13, maybe the Pixel C will herald the return of decent 10-inch Android slates from someone other than Samsung.