The tablet war between Apple and Google is only just getting warmed up, but it’s going to take time before it becomes a full-scale conflict. Apple’s iPad has a good 10-month head-start over Google Honeycomb tablets, the first of which became available only yesterday. Motorola’s Xoom is the initial soldier in the Android army, and other Honeycomb tablets from LG, Samsung, Acer and others will soon enlist. So we’re sure to see a regiment or two join up with Android, but you can’t win a war solely with infantrymen. You need supporting personnel as well, and in this case, that means third-party developers. We’re only in the second day of the siege, but a quick scan of the Android Market shows a scant 16 tablet apps.
It’s great that the new Android Market has a section highlighting Android apps for tablets, but the shelves are definitely a little bare. There’s a good reason for this: It was only a few weeks ago that Google released the software toolkit for developers to write Honeycomb tablet apps. Mobile app programmers simply haven’t had time to digest the new features — and the APIs to use them — in Google’s operating system for tablets. However, I suspect there are actually more than 16 apps optimized for tablets. The Earthquake app, for example, is tablet-optimized, but doesn’t appear in the list above. Perhaps developers need to mark their app as “tablet ready” for inclusion this area of the store.
The tablet apps I’ve used — CNN, Pulse, Cordy and Accu Weather, among others — all do take advantage of the larger screen and new controls that Honeycomb provides. So from an end-user perspective, these apps are on the right track to help Google tablets compete against the iPad. There just aren’t enough of them yet, and that means potential buyers will primarily judge devices based on apps designed for the smaller screen. Unfortunately, the experience is generally a turn-off for some of the top-tier titles right now. Facebook’s home screen looks silly due to tiny icons on a relatively huge display. Twitter’s text is small and hard to read. And even the popular Angry Birds game appears slightly less crisp and more blocky on the Xoom’s 1280×800 resolution display. Both the native Google Books, as well as Amazon’s Kindle app do work well, so the e-book reading experience, at least, is solid.
Will developers adjust their software to run on Google tablets? Of course they will, although Google should have worked with key development partners to have apps ready in advance of the first Honeycomb tablet launch, like Apple did. That didn’t appear to happen, so fixing the situation now is going to take time and effort. This means Android won’t win (or even be competitive in) the tablet war in the short term. For the time being, Apple and its 60,000 iPad apps (as of last month), have a huge lead in terms of developer and consumer interest. Google’s going to have to put much more effort into mustering the troops if it wants to be more competitive in the tablet wars.
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