One of the nice features of Android is that the operating system has built in functions that allow smartphone apps to scale well to many different screen sizes. Since Google can't control the screen size decisions their Android hardware partners create, they needed to make the apps extensible to many different screen sizes. With tablets, however, this has been more of a curse than a blessing.
Android developers have not necessarily felt the need to re-create new versions of their applications for the larger screen tablet form factor. This has been a fundamental failing of the Android tablet ecosystem.
In contrast, Apple's developers have been finding success creating version of their apps optimized for smaller screen iPhones and bigger screen tablets. The same has not translated to the Android developer ecosystem yet. Why?
Is Google the problem?
One has to ask if Google is to blame for this. One thing that always sticks in my mind about Google is their business model. Google makes the bulk of their revenue from search queries that happen through a web browser, generally, on a smartphone, tablet, or PC.
But what are people doing when they are in an app playing a game, watching a video, messaging friends, etc? I can tell you what they aren't doing--searching the web. Native software via applications is to a degree counter to Google's business model.
More to this point, the vast majority of apps in Google's app store are free. Which means that revenue from Google's app store, while healthy, is still no where near their core business in search. In the back of my mind, I always wonder if Google is not pushing tablet apps because of the fear that it impacts their search revenue.
The point gets even more interesting when we observe how tablets are used much more similarly to PCs in terms of web browsing. Google's desktop search is still a healthy percentage of their revenue and if tablets took away from that it would make an impact.
Ultimately developers are in the drivers seat. They have to know they can make money on their apps and that optimizing their apps for the tablet form factor is a worthwhile investment. For whatever the reason, it appears this is still not an investment many developers feel is worth making.
(For more Android tablet news, trends, apps and reviews, sign up for the free TabTimes for Android newsletter)
Yet this point is fascinating given that there are more Android tablets in the world than iPads, but developers are succeeding more with tablet optimized apps for iPad than they are with Android.
Google has made some efforts to give tablet apps more prominence in the Play store, but the number of apps optimized for Android tablets there pales by comparison to the hundreds of thousands Apple offers for iPad. If Google is serious about the tablet platform with regard to apps, than this is an issue it needs to address.
Consumer vs. enterprise
While the absence of dedicated tablet apps is an issue in the consumer market place, it is less of an issue in the commercial sector. This is because for the most part enterprises are deploying their own custom applications.
In this case the enterprise is the developer and can create apps optimized for whatever screen size they choose.
However, even with that reality, the iPad is still king in the enterprise. Samsung is hoping to add more software optimization to try and give their tablet products more appeal but at the end of the day the dearth in optimized applications will play a role in how consumers think about one tablet over another.
(Tablet productivity is the theme and the focus of several sesions at Tablet Strategy conference on May 6, 2014 in New York. You may be eligible for a free pass if you qualify as a Tablet/Mobile Manager. If you don't qualify, there are still a few tickets available at $175 each, breakfast and lunch included. Check conditions and register on the registration page.)
The tablet is not a smartphone
The key point that needs to be driven home about tablet and their upside is that they are not smartphones. In my opinion to be limited to run smartphone applications on your tablet is the same as being limited to running smartphone applications on your PC. One would not tolerate smartphone apps on their PC and one should not tolerate smartphone apps on their tablet.
The tablet platform is loaded with potential and the large screen should be taken advantage of. Hopefully Google recognizes they have an issue on their hands. If they want Android to become the tablet computing platform it can become then they must bring the Android ecosystem on board and envision a bigger picture for Android tablets and its role in personal computing.