I’ve got an Android-powered smartphone, and I’ve pretty much got an app for everything.
I’ve got an Android-powered tablet, too. Yes, it will run the majority of smartphone apps, but why are there so few apps that are either designed for tablets, or run really well on them? I could bring up the Android-powered Google TV, and the literally dozens of apps that you can get for it, but I’ll be nice — for now.
Android-powered tablets are relatively new to the market, and they’re fragmented. There, I said it. But it’s not Android that’s fragmented, it’s the “custom launchers” that’s causing the fragmentation. In this context, I’m talking about Android-powered devices that you wouldn’t know were powered by Android just by looking:
- Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color is an Android tablet, but it’s limited to B&N’s “market”.
- Amazon’s Kindle Fire is a Android tablet, but it’s limited to their own “market.”
These are two of the most popular Android tablets, and they don’t have access to the Google Play Store — and developers on the Play Store don’t have access to them. That’s a fairly big chunk.
Older Versions of Android
The remaining Android tablets either run Gingerbread or Honeycomb (let’s face it, no one wants to develop for those any more), or are one of the very few that run Ice Cream Sandwich. Luckily the number of ICS devices is increasing, and as it does so will the number of tablet-friendly apps.
Smaller Developers, Limited Resources
Believe it or not, good number of Android apps are written by independent developers, not big dev shops. This is cool because it gives the Android platform a wider variety of apps than one would expect on other platforms, but it’s also limiting.
Case in point? I’ve got six apps of my own in the Play Store. Four are free, two are paid. To-date I’ve made a few hundred bucks off my apps. That’s not enough to even buy a tablet, let alone invest the time to develop for various tablets with different screen sizes. I hear you saying “that’s what the emulator is for”, and to a degree you’re right. But the emulator won’t catch everything, especially the nuances of a completely different platform. I’m not saying a developer needs one of every single device that exists, but one of each platform they intend to support would be very helpful — though even that is cost-prohibitive for many, if not most, developers.
I’m lucky enough to have a few different smartphones, two differently sized tablets running two versions of the OS, and even a Google TV set-top box. The majority of my apps work just fine on all the platforms — though improvements could be made to take better advantage of each platform.
No, not “fragmentation”, “fragments”. Google has this neat development metaphor called “fragments”. Programmers who follow this pattern can split his or her app into logical chunks that are laid out differently on various screen sizes. In effect, the app can be written once and can function and look pretty decent on all three platforms and various screen sizes and resolutions.
It’s not a terribly difficult concept to grasp and to put into action, but it does take time to learn, to test, and to deploy. That’s something developers may not have the incentive to do.
I’m not going to say that Android is “fragmented” again, instead I’ll say that it’s “varied”. Unlike Apple, there’s more than a one-size-fits-all ecosystem when it comes to Android. Apple has their iPhone (and it’s few variants) and their iPad (which is basically just a big iPhone — without the phone). They have apps that “just work” because there are so few choices in hardware.
Android, on the other hand, has significantly more hardware choices, but app choices are suffering because of it. It’s simply the other side of the same coin.
We’ve already talked a little bit about developers and fragments and whatnot, but we haven’t talked about the numbers. Simply put, there a a gazillion more iPads than there are Android tablets (or Android tablets that include access to the Google Play Store, at the very least). The variables on the Apple side are relatively few, whereas on the Android side they’re relatively many.
Put all together, when someone wants to write an app, where do they have a bigger potential revenue base? That’s right, Apple. So if they have a bigger potential to make money over there, why would they develop over here? For the time being, it’s just because they don’t want to leave a hole on the Android-side where their apps could be. If they do, someone else will come in and fill it, which would limit their future potential on Android.
Android has shown how it can compete in the smartphone market, and we’re currently ahead. Android is still relatively new to the tablet game, and is still gaining traction.
Everything points to the imminent release of a Google Nexus Tablet for under $200 which will likely be sold directly to consumers, which may help accelerate the adoption of Android’s tablet as a platform.
I predict, in time, we’ll see Android tablets give Apple (and now Microsoft) a run for their money when it comes to tablets. As this happens, apps will evolve to take advantage of — and look better on — tablets.