Thursday, June 02, 2011

Why Are There No Apps for Android Tablets?


The iPad 2 has more than 65,000 apps for it, in the App Store. And that's not counting iPhone / iPod Touch apps, which can be scaled up to fit its display.

How many apps do we have in the Android world, for our tablets? There are only a few dozen in the Android Market's "Featured Tablet Apps" section. And while that's probably not all the tablet apps out there, not all of those are even designed for tablets; many are just Android phone apps that work OK on a larger screen.

It's clear that we're facing an app shortage, for people who bought an Android tablet like a Xoom or an Asus Transformer. But why, when there are so many for the iPad ... and when Android phones are catching up to the iPhone, app-wise?

To find out, let's look at two things: Who's writing the apps, and why they write them.

These are the developers in your neighborhood

Imagine, if you will, that we're watching an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and he's going to take us on a tour of where our apps are made. (Which, he totally would've if he were still alive today.) Where do you suppose we'd end up?

Apple answers that question on its website, profiling indie, academic, and corporate app developers in an entertaining video tour. Some were Mac app developers, who found that writing for iOS was a natural use of their talents. Some worked for a company like AOL, which decided it had to have a presence in the App Store. And some were drawn in during the iPhone's Gold Rush, looking to sell apps right when the App Store opened.

I have a feeling that if you profile Android developers, you'll see basically the same motivations. Some like the technology, and enjoy making it do stuff; some work for a company that tells them to; and some simply want to make money. The problem is, the differences between the App Store and the Android Market make the latter much less appealing to many of those developers.

This is why we can't have nice things

Android apps are written in Java, which is an easy programming language that's often taught in college. Add to that how it's just a $25 flat fee to put your apps on the Android Market (compared to $99 per year on the App Store), and you see why Android beats out iOS in its number of free apps.

So that's your "like the technology" contingent, right there. But what about the people who see the design possibilities? Who see a tablet's screen as a canvas, and want to create their masterpiece? Which platform do you think they'd like better, the quirky one with the ugly apps or the shiny, pristine Apple one?

People like that write apps for the devices they have, and they're buying a lot more iPads. Add in the fact that there's less money being made on the Android Market, and that doesn't leave too many developers who aren't writing the official CNN app (or something). The problem is even worse with Android tablets than with Android phones, because fewer people are buying them and buying apps for them.

What are people buying? iPads ... and the Nook Color, which doesn't even run the tablet version of Android. Maybe things will pick up once Amazon releases its rumored tablet, but I won't be holding my breath.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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