Can More Flexible Approach To App Sizes Help Boost Android Tablet Momentum?

The Samsung Galaxy Tab shown off at CTIA 2010

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) released a few more details Wednesday on how Android developers can start using a new method for making sure their applications run properly across tablets with different screen sizes, which will fall into place later this year when Android 3.2 is released.

As has been well documented, Android hasn’t even come close to duplicating the level of success it enjoys in the smartphone market with the first generation of tablets running the operating system. There are a variety of reasons for that, including uninspired hardware and poor pricing strategies, but there is also a dearth of applications designed specifically for Android tablets.

Google’s hoping to change that with Android 3.2, and it released the software development kit for that version a few weeks ago. One of the major changes is to the way Android detects the size at which a developer wants his or her application to appear on a tablet, and Dianne Hackborn, a Google engineer heavily involved with Android, walked developers through the new methodology in a blog post Wednesday.

Older versions of Android used an inflexible “normal/large/xlarge” modifier to the code to detect the proper size at which the app should be displayed: “normal” included most smartphones and “xlarge” was designed for the 10-inch tablets that launched along with Android 3.0. But “large” was kind of a mess that tried to impose a single app size across screens anywhere from 5 inches to 7 inches with varying resolutions. “Different applications may also reasonably want to take different approaches to these two devices; it is also quite reasonable to want to have different behavior for landscape vs. portrait large devices because landscape has plenty of space for a multi-pane UI, while portrait may not,” Hackborn wrote.

So with the new release, Google will allow developers to specify exactly how they’d like their app to appear on different devices by using numbers, not fixed “buckets” that have no way of knowing how the tablet market will evolve over time. It gives developers much more choice as to how they’d like their applications to appear, which could help encourage more developers to give Android tablets a shot.

Of course, the only thing that really matters to developers is volume, which presents quite the “chicken or the egg?” dilemma for Google. But more and better tablet applications for Android can only help the operating system’s chances of making a dent in Apple’s iPad market share.

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