After originally dismissing the need for applications optimized for Android tablets, Google has begun to promote those apps in Google Play. It's time for businesses that have previously accepted Google's "good enough" tactic to change their views.
Google's former approach to Android tablet apps is one of the main reasons I bought an iPad, not an Android tablet. In the past, Google said Android apps designed for phones would work just fine on their tablets. The company emphasized designing for scalability -- a single app coded for multiple types of devices -- rather than device specificity.
It's true most Android phone apps can scale up to tablets. However, all too often this resulted in apps that s-t-r-e-t-c-h across tablets so the same phone-based text and graphics expand to fill the screen. As a result, these apps often look ugly. Worse, they don't include additional features that take advantage of tablets' larger screens.
Also, too many Android tablet apps look inferior and have fewer features than their iPad counterparts. It has been a constant source of irritation for users and a major negative held against Android in tablet reviews. For example, in August, Wired rated Google's Nexus 7 tablet nine out of 10, but said, "Now, can we get more tablet-optimized apps, Google?"
The situation is especially bad for Android tablets with screens of 10 inches, where apps that aren't optimized can look much worse than on seven-inch screens. In August, research firm Canalys said that a few tens of thousands of apps optimized for Android tablets compared with more than 375,000 optimized for the iPad.
Google understands -- and has changed the way Android tablet apps are highlighted in the Google Play store. When an Android tablet accesses the store, by default the screen displays the top apps labeled as "designed for tablets." Users may search for all tablet apps, but those not optimized will be labeled as "designed for phones."
Given the choice of selecting an app, how many Android tablet users would enthusiastically pick "designed for phones" over "designed for tablets"? Relatively few, I suspect.
Google's labeling isn't perfect. Some apps "designed for tablets" differ only slightly from their phone counterparts. Also, a handful of big name apps "designed for tablets," like Facebook and Twitter, seem to have been given a pass even when they are remain basically phone apps.
Still, Google's trying. Its developers' blog offers reasons for optimizing apps for tablets and provides recommendations for coding them. One blog post notes: "Mint.com found that the larger screen real estate allowed tablet users to engage with their budget data 7x more than on phones. And TinyCo found that on average, paying users spent 35% more on tablets than on handsets."
Google's promoting the idea that better apps for tablets will result in more downloads, more use, and more money for developers who sell the apps or use other means of generating revenues from them. Tablet-optimized apps also make sense for enterprises, despite not selling their own apps to employees. More businesses are using a wide variety of Android tablets and more employees are bringing in their own.
Optimized corporate apps would eliminate extraneous white space and margins, and add more information -- text, photos, videos, charts, and graphs -- that enable employees to better do their jobs. A tablet app could include another pane or window to provide data in the extra space.
Menus should be appropriate to the larger viewing area, that is, not stretch across the entire screen. Fonts, widgets, and icons should be suitable for a large screen. Certain features available on a phone (i.e., cellular calling or GPS) might not be available on a WiFi-only tablet and shouldn't be included.
A well-designed app is more efficient to use. Employees won't have to slog through it and grumble using about a poorly coded app. Also, there might be less likelihood of employees downloading similar non-corporate apps that look better but don't include all-important features and, potentially, security holes.
In addition, there's an intangible value to crafting better Android tablet apps. They look cooler and might even improve employee morale. After all, what company wants to be considered incompetent as employees laugh at its apps?
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing