Say what you will about Android(s goog) versus iOS(s aapl), but there’s no denying Apple has managed to cultivate a high-quality, vibrant ecosystem of tablet-specific apps. If you own an iPad, you have access to more than 375,000 apps at your fingertips right at this very moment. But what’s even more important is that they’re easy to search for and find. Trying to find Android tablet apps, on the other hand, can be an exercise in patience, frustration, and ultimately, futility.
This story started off as an app comparison between Android tablets and the iPad. But it quickly became clear that searching for Android tablet apps is no easier today than it was when I first laid my hands on the original Samsung Galaxy Tab nearly three years ago. Why? Unlike in the world of iOS, there’s no clear, simple separation on Google Play between phone apps and tablet apps.
It became clear I’d have to take matters into my own hands if I was going to find some genuine Android tablet apps, and I’ve outlined the best strategies I discovered while doing so here. There won’t be a foolproof way to search for tablet-optimized apps unless Google provides a distinct separation between the two in Google Play, but these tips are your best bet for finding what’s out there right now.
Let Google guide you
Google may not make any distinction between phone and tablet apps in the Google Play store, but it does offer you some guidance. Take out your tablet and fire up Google Play. It will automatically recognize that you are using a tablet and offer one or more menus filled with-tablet optimized apps. Look for “Tablet 101,” “Tablet Highlights: More Apps for Your Tablet” or “Staff Picks for Tablet” to get yourself started. These are a great place to start, but only offer a handful of apps.
Take your search to the web
Open up the web browser on your tablet. Run a search for “Android tablet apps.” The first return you see should be a page for Google Play’s store on the web, highlighting “Featured Apps for Tablets.” There are also plenty of good app roundups there. Not only will they point you towards tablet-optimized apps, they’ll show you the best ones you can find.
Learn your search strings
You won’t get anywhere by typing in calculator and just hoping for the best. Instead, add some words to your search to help guide it. Try Calculator Tablet or Calculator HD. You can even try adding the name of your tablet (or the current most popular Android tablet) to your search, like Calculator Galaxy Tab or Calculator Nexus 7.
Check out the screenshots
Yes, you can read through app descriptions in the hope of locating the words tablet optimized, but they are often buried in the middle of lengthy descriptions and difficult to find. A faster, easier way to tell if an app is made for tablets is to check out the screenshots. If you see any in landscape orientation (horizontal), that’s a good indication the app is tablet-optimized. Keep in mind that not all tablet apps work in landscape, though, so read the fine print if you want a definitive answer.
Let other apps search for you
Until Google creates a way to distinguish between tablet and phone apps, your best bet is to download an app that does this for you. Tablified Market is a great place to start. It shows a clear, curated list of third-party apps that are specifically designed or optimized to work on Android tablets. It’s how Google Play should work.
Take a shot in the dark
Just because an app isn’t optimized to run on your tablet doesn’t mean you can’t use it. You can still run the app in a phone-size window with a bunch of empty space around it, or you can stretch it out and blow it up to fit your tablet’s screen. Neither of these options is optimal, but it’s better than not having access to the app at all. And you might even get lucky and find the app is optimized to work on your tablet, but didn’t say so in the app description.
All images from Google Play.