As Apple gears up production of what one WSJ report claims is 10 million iPad minis, the tablet wars will be joined full force this holiday. Remarkably, even as Amazon and Barnes & Noble "forked" the Android operating system into reasonably successful half-sized tablet/readers, Google has been remarkably complacent about the dearth of apps available for its own basic Android tablets even as Samsung, Asus and the company’s own Nexus 7 get some traction in the market. Better late than never, the company added extensive new guidelines this week to the Android Developers site to encourage app developers to consider how their apps might adapt to the larger screen.
The "Tablet App Quality Checklist" instructs developers to test their apps in a tablet environment and offer additional screen layouts that can take advantage of the additional display real estate in portrait and landscape modes. Google advises developers to consider button size and icon dimensions, and not to include features that are assumed on a smartphone (camera, GPS, cellular connection, etc.). They recommend that a tablet version of an app offers "graceful degradation" from the smartphone version with alternatives on the tablet version. In fact, the instructions suggest that Google understands users may be put off by having apps clearly designed for smartphones pushed at them as tablet-friendly. They recommend, for instance, that the developer delete from the app "permissions" screen requests for device access that imply features that are not actually on the tablet.
More persuasively, Google is trying to make the point to developers that the tablet environment is worth targeting. In its page of developer stories charting tablet success, companies like Mint, TinyCo, and Instapaper testify to the deeper engagement and broader reach they are already experiencing on Android tablets. On the day the Nexus 7 arrived for many consumers, Instapaper saw a 600% jump in its downloads. Mint says session times from tablets are much higher. And game maker, TinyCo claims 35% average higher revenue per user from the tablet version of its tiny village game and greater user retention as well.
Anecdotally, my own experience with the Nexus 7 is that the new Google PlayStore is miles better than the previous Marketplace, and there is a special section of tablet-optimized apps, albeit still way too small. Google might have been better off cultivating its tablet development more aggressively sooner than weeks before Apple is ready to shake up the market with a serious contender.
On the one hand, it is easy to see how a reasonably priced iPad mini could blow almost everyone else out of the water this holiday. The depth of the iPad app catalog and the simple iPad prestige value will be a very powerful combination in the market that could well be worth to consumers the $50 or $100 premium I am guessing Apple will ask. On the other hand, for the many millions of Android smartphone owners, cross-platform familiarity and compatibility may be a real value-add when it comes to Android-based tablets.