Will Tablet Apps Fragment the Android Market?

Samsung Galaxy Tabs

Android tablets are closer to consumers’ hands now that companies like Samsung and Toshiba are showing models at the IFA show in Germany. The Galaxy Tab looks like a real competitor to the iPad, 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. ┬áIt’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?

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