Amazon’s Kindle Fire was easily the most anticipated Android-based tablet launched in 2011, and could wind up outselling all other contenders combined. But it’s also creating yet another fragmentation problem for the Android community as publishers embrace the Kindle Fire by creating exclusive applications for that device while neglecting other Android tablets.
Google’s chicken-or-the-egg problem with Android tablets is well documented at this point: developers won’t build applications for devices that aren’t shipping in volume, making those devices less likely to ship in volume because of a lack of applications suited for their larger screens. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has tried to encourage developers to build tablet-specific apps over the last several months but it doesn’t seem that too many major publishers are listening.
Instead, Conde Nast and The Weather Channel created Kindle Fire-specific applications to go along with the launch of the device last week, choosing to place their Android tablet bets on a device that isn’t even running the version of Android that Google designed for tablets. Several of the Conde Nast titles (The New Yorker, Golf Digest) were designed only for the Kindle Fire and therefore probably won’t look their best on other Android tablets.
The Weather Channel chose to optimize its namesake Android app for 7-inch screens like the one found on the Kindle Fire, said Melissa Medori, a Weather Channel representative. It also updated its generic Android application this week for phones and the company still plans to build an app for larger Android tablets based on the Android 3.0 Honeycomb release and the brand new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich release, but because the user interface of the Kindle Fire is so different than that of Android tablets running version 3.0, it had to create a specific version only for that device.
The problem for Google and tablet makers that have bet on the Honeycomb-class devices (Samsung, Motorola (NYSE: MMI), HTC) is that other publishers with fewer resources will have to make an app-fatigued decision about how to reach people on tablets beyond the iPad. If the Kindle Fire can sell in volumes even half that of Apple’s iPad, they’ll likely want to reach that audience, which for many will mean building a Kindle Fire-style app for an older operating system with a unique user interface as opposed to building an app for tablets that are using more advanced versions of Android.
Much as different screen sizes and hardware components have complicated Android smartphone development, devices such as the Kindle Fire could complicate application development for an Android tablet market that hasn’t even gotten off the ground. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) executives almost gleefully predicted this a few weeks ago in a meeting with financial analysts, according to AppleInsider.
Hopefully for Google and Android, it might just be a short-term problem. Tablet Web usage seems higher compared to that of smartphone users, at least judging by iPad Nation, and both interest and follow-through on HTML5 projects seems to increase by the month with still a ways to go.
It could be a while, however, before a sizable amount of publishers figure out how to deliver content experiences through the mobile Web that are as compelling as their apps. Apple’s in-app subscription policies certainly offer some motivation.