Up until Motorola and Google co-released the XOOM tablet, Apple dominated the tablet arena. Various manufacturers attempted to “shoe-horn” the smartphone version of Android onto tablets with much larger screens, and actually did some with some measure of success. Google politely asked manufacturers to hold off while they put together a version of Android that was designed specifically for the larger screen sizes that are what make tablets so much different than smartphones.
Android Honeycomb was born… and everyone hated it. Honeycomb was a necessary evil to get us “over the hump” so apps could be developed for tablets. It set up a framework that developers could use to make an app written with a single codebase work properly and look good on both smartphones and tablets (and later even phablets and TVs). Eventually Honeycomb gave way to Ice Cream Sandwich, which unified the operating system again — no longer did we have a separate version for big screen and small screen devices!
With the foundation having been laid and developers now having the tools to write beautiful apps for devices regardless of size, something surprising happened: we still have crappy looking tablet apps.
Even with the building blocks being in place and the tools made available to make apps look great, developers haven’t done their part. Thanks to some announcements at Google I/O 2013, that’s all about to change.
A New IDE
At Google I/O 2013 a new Integrated Development Environment was announced. An IDE is what developers use to write the code necessary to turn an idea into an app. Up until now most developers have used Eclipse, one of the most popular Java IDEs around. The new IDE is built entirely for Android, and is better suited for making apps. The big news here is that it includes a built-in layout preview engine which will let developers see how their app looks and behaves for all screen sizes and supported languages — simultaneously. Changes are applied immediately so developers are much more likely to see issues with various layouts and rapidly address them, without having to compile and release another build.
All that sounds great, but we still need developers to make the necessary changes, and a reason for them to do so. Google announced that reason at I/O, too!
Designed for Tablet
The Google Play Store is showcasing a “Designed for Tablet” section to highlight which apps are designed with your Android-powered tablet in mind.
Chris Yerga, Google Director of Android Engineering had this to say:
“We’ve been hard at working making consumers find your existing apps. The new Play Store isn’t just about looks, it is about improving discovery of apps, it is about adapting to you. We know that many developers have invested a lot of energy in to building awesome tablet experiences and we want to make sure users can discover your tablet apps, so starting today we are going to be providing a view in our top charts that surfaces applications that are Designed for Tablets. This section will show apps that meet our tablet app design guidelines…”
What does all this mean for you?
First of all, the new IDE is still in a very beta stage, sporting a version number of 0.1. There is a process to migrate current Eclipse projects to the new IDE, but it may still be fairly early for developers to make the leap. In short, the game is just getting started. What this means to you, the end user, is that your apps probably still have a way to go before they’re migrated to the new IDE and are “renovated” to work beautifully on your tablet.
In the meantime, rest assured, Android tablet owners, your life is about to get really exciting!