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Will Tablet Apps Fragment the Android Market?

Android (s goog) tablets are closer to consumers’ hands now that companies like Samsung and Toshiba (s toshbf) are showing models at the IFA show in Germany. The Galaxy Tab looks like a real competitor to the iPad (s aapl), due in part to apps Samsung has optimized for the larger screen.

These apps point to the need for developers to produce two versions of their apps: one for phones and another for tablets, as iOS developers are doing. This is likely the reason Google has been reluctant to allow the Android Market to appear on non-phone devices until recently. With the Market now coming installed on tablets, will we start to see it fragmenting into two stores?

For example, Samsung has taken the same approach to its tablet app for email that Apple has taken on the iPad. Email is displayed in a single pane when the Galaxy Tab is in the narrower portrait orientation, but expands to a two-pane view when rotated into the wider landscape mode. Apple has optimized a number of iPhone apps for the larger iPad, as have other developers for the device. This is a natural progression given the change from phone to tablet, and we’ll see this become the norm in the Android world as tablets appear in numbers.

Once developers start producing two versions of their Android apps, as Samsung is doing, the Android Market will have to change to accommodate it. Apple does a good job presenting both iPhone and iPad apps to the consumer, and Google should take a page from the iTunes App Store book. The last thing Android tablet owners want to see is a tiny subset of the tens of thousands of apps currently available in the Market. Google needs to step in and define clear procedures to ensure that apps written for phones work on (and are available for) the larger tablets, with special tablet versions adding additional features for consumers, as is the case with Apple’s store.

To make this work best, Google will have to work with tablet makers to handle apps for these devices properly. Samsung has stated it will have the Android Market installed on the Galaxy Tab, but that it will also sell the tablet apps in its own app store. This will fragment the Android Market if OEMs start selling their own apps outside of the official market, something already happening as ARCHOS has its own tablet app store that is not affiliated with the Android Market. Phone carriers have their own app stores, but they appear in the Android Market, which would work for tablets, as well.  It’s important to have one “official” marketplace for Android apps that handles both phone and tablet versions.

Google is often criticized for fragmenting the Android platform with multiple versions of the OS. It doesn’t need to allow the official outlet for apps to get similarly fragmented. Owners of Android devices should go to one app store to fill all their needs: the Android Market. Otherwise, third-party developers may not be willing to invest time and effort into creating good tablet versions. They don’t have the resources to sell to multiple OEMs to get their apps in every market.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

5 Responses to “Will Tablet Apps Fragment the Android Market?”

  1. There is 2 different issues here:

    Android Market compatibility

    To release an app on Android Market, one needs to follow the guidelines from Google. If your app doesn’t follow them, it won’t get approval to be on Android Market.

    These guidelines all ready specify different needs of different devices ( with font settings, expanding columns etc ) so anyone could do one app that would be good on both big and small screens.

    .. but OEMs want to make apps that are specially designed for their devices, the way they want to do them. It is far faster and cheaper to just make an app that fits your needs than app that would work on all devices. They choose not to follow these guidelines and that’s why they can’t publish their apps on Market.

    So that’s why OEMs choose to have their own app stores.. it’s cheaper and easier.

    Android devices

    It’s similar situation with devices. Android CCD defines the hw and sw device must have to gain access to Android Market.

    If these definitions are not met, your devices won’t get access to Market.

    Again, OEM’s choose to do what ever hardware design they please, knowing they won’t get approval. Archos choose to not make Android buttons etc.. which are required to get approval. They choose to make their on UI and run their own code from separate image.

    Why? They wanted to do so as it might have been easier and faster = cheaper for them than trying to get their hardware and software approved. ( early versions were so unstable they could never get any approvals )

    So again they choose to have their own app store.

    Is this good thing? Yes and No. I’d like to see all the Android device compatible with Android CCD. I would like to see all apps being compatible too.. but I rather have the choice of downloading any apps from any sources, I rather have the open source version without Market and other G stuff than close it down fully like the vegetable company is doing.

  2. The Android Market should not redirect to a tablet version. Developers should be forced to detect the hardware and specify the target hardware in the Android manifest just as they are presently targetting the SDK. That way, the application will have the ability to run differently on different devices and different SDKs and the behavior should degrade gracefully depending on the capability of the hardware just like it happens now for Android phone apps. – Arunabh Das

  3. It was my understanding that the Market already allows developers to specify that their apps are only available for specific versions, regions, devices, and carriers. If this is the case, there should be no problem.

    Even if it is not, I don’t see a big problem. An app which is written for a large screen may work poorly on a small screen and vice versa. But there are plenty of apps which work poorly in general. It comes down to trying it out and seeing if it works for you.

    I have a 5 inch Archos tablet that I normally use in landscape mode. Some apps work well for me, others don’t, and some don’t run at all. That’s what uninstall is for.

  4. If Google differentiates the different profiles similarly to the way Apple does with iOS Apps then NO, Tablet Apps will not further fragment Android.

    Keep in mind that Google TV Android Layout Profiles are coming as well (widgets, apps) so Google better be on their toes about how they differentiate in the Marketplace.

    The new Google TV integrated Marketplace is expected 2011 so that tells me they are planning to differentiate for Google TV Apps but it is possible the waters could get murky with Tablet Apps before that time.