If you have Google’s new streaming dongle, you can seamlessly continue watching a movie or show on the tablet after pressing pause on the TV—handy if you’re moving from the living room to bed—though this might not work with all streaming apps. Entertainment Space does lean into short-form content more heavily though, including YouTube shorts and Twitch streams.
Of course, Google also presents content it thinks you’ll enjoy based on your viewing history, likes, and other data. You can even install any apps or games that are recommended here without needing to jump to the Google Play Store first. And if multiple people in a household are sharing a tablet, you can switch between profiles in Entertainment Space so each user can enjoy a personalized experience.
“Entertainment Space is meant to be a discovery pane where you can find all the things you were previously watching, reading, or playing, and get back into them or find new items,” Bender says. “It’s not meant to be a consumption area. If you click on any card, it takes you to the respective app. What we want to do is make it easier for people to get to the content they want to enjoy.”
Google says it conducted 23 studies on more than 17,500 Android tablet owners around the world, and it discovered that one of the biggest pain points for its users was finding content across multiple apps. Entertainment Space, which took two years to develop, aims to reduce the number of clicks required to get to your media. The feature is arriving at an opportune time too. Google says throughout 2020, it saw a more than 30 percent jump in Android tablet usage over 2019.
“Because of Covid, tablet usage has skyrocketed,” Bender says. “We’ve seen the number of monthly active users increase, and last quarter was literally the best ever for tablet activations and sales. It’s fair to say that that’s directly related to a lot of the screen time increase in work-from-home and shelter-in-place, but also from improvements to the ecosystem like Google Kids Space.”
Apple is still the leader in tablet market share, but in the first quarter of 2021, Samsung’s tablet sales saw a 60 percent growth over the same time last year, and Lenovo grew by 134 percent, according to data from technology research firm Canalys.
“The tablet market is growing tremendously; it has for a few quarters here,” says Brian Lynch, research analyst at Canalys. “It’s been pretty well paralleled to all operating systems in the market. In general, Android and iPad operating systems have been doing well and growing at similar rates, and all vendors have been quite successful for Android.”
Lynch says he expects this growth to continue for a few years before eventually tapering off. He also confirms Bender’s suggestion that the growth kick-started in 2020 when the world went into lockdown over the Covid-19 pandemic. Education was a big driver as students needed access to a screen for at-home schooling.
“Let’s say you’re a parent with three kids at home,” he says. “They have class, they can’t go outside, and so getting a tablet is really helpful for general productivity. You also have to look at some of the chip shortages from the past year; tablets have been able to weather that storm a little bit better than notebooks, so there’s likely some crossover there.”
The Android tablet experience hasn’t seen many big changes over the years as Apple dominated the market with regular feature updates and a consistent stream of new hardware. Entertainment Space may give the Android tablet experience a big shot in the arm. However, it doesn’t solve the problem of how so few Android apps are optimized for the larger screen. Bender says that’s starting to change.