Google, It’s Time to Get Serious About Tablet Apps!

It’s been exactly one year since I bought an Android tablet and throughout this year, I have enjoyed setting it up, using it, evangelizing the 7″ form factor and watching Android tablets rise in popularity with Google’s official endorsement of the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 later on. The iPad had dominated the tablet market for quite some time, but it seems as though Android tablets are finally getting the credit, spotlight and market share that they deserve.

However, once users get past the purchase, Android tablets are still facing the same problem they had one year ago: tablet-optimized apps curation and discovery. Google has done absolutely zero effort to remedy the situation, despite the availability — and dare I say abundance — of quality tablet apps. Personally, I have spent countless days looking for them and crying over the many quality apps that never get more than a few hundred downloads because no one can really find them in the Play Store. I have also done my best, ever since I took charge of the editorial duties at Android.Appstorm to cover more tablet apps roundups and help readers find these hidden gems.

And I have been trying to stay positive about the situation, but last week, I saw the straw that broke the camel’s back: Etsy — a non-tablet app by any definition — was featured on my tablet’s Store! As someone who has made it a personal mission to improve recognition and discovery of tablet apps, this came as a low blow – Google simply can not be bothered, and there’s only so much one person can do. Following is a desperate cry for the Android team to get their heads together and fix this situation as soon as possible.

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People Really Look for Tablet Apps

As I mentioned earlier, I have been championing tablet-optimized apps for the past three months on Android.Appstorm. Eventually, I noticed that since our roundups were very specific, people weren’t finding them easily through a Google search. So I wrote “The Best Apps For Your Nexus 7, 10 or Other Android Tablet” — a generic post that would be easily spotted by anyone searching for articles on tablet apps on Google. Inside, I linked to all of our tablet-optimized roundups.

It has been almost a month since that post went live, and I have been observing our Analytics ever since. The response has been quite overwhelming with several thousand daily hits from search results to that article. Even more interestingly, most readers who end up on it are clicking on the roundups linked inside and reading them.

If our niche site can get several thousand daily queries related to Android tablet apps with one single article, then I can’t begin to imagine how many people are searching for them all over the internet, let alone on the Play Store.

High-Quality Apps Are No Longer Rare

For a long time, I have assumed that Google wanted to shy away from creating a specific “Tablet” category in the Store because of the small amount of optimized apps. However, that situation is no longer true. You’ll just have to look at Tablified, a directory dedicated to tablet apps, or at my personally curated high-quality tablet apps channels on Playboard. And I suspect that neither me, nor the team behind Tablified, has even begun to scrape the surface of great tablet apps that are hidden from sight.

For example, did you know that there’s an excellent Flickr client for tablets in Glimmr, or that F-Stop Media Gallery is a fantastic gallery replacement that lets you see photos and album rolls at the same time? How about the awesome cooking app Cooklet, sports results in Are You Watching This, or note taking in JotterPad HD? And don’t let me get started on how almost no one has heard of the brilliant News, the open source Tint Browser, or the incredibly useful FTP client in Turbo Client.

F-Stop Media Gallery

F-Stop Media Gallery

There are high-quality apps out there for Android tablets. Yet only a very tiny number of them get the spotlight, because of blogs and media coverage. Everything else remains hidden like a prize for those who have the patience to go hunting for them.

We Need a Tablet Category in the Store

So Google, since I established that 1. there’s demand and 2. there’s supply, why not fulfill every tablet owner’s dream and finally create that category in the Play Store? Apps could use multiple categories to be included in the Business section and the Tablet section for example and thus enhance their discoverability for tablet users.

And if this is ever going to happen, the Tablet App Quality Checklist published by the Android developer team needs to be made more visible, especially the part about providing one screenshot of the app running on a tablet for the Play Store listing.

Android's Checklist advises against the use of "stretched" UIs in tablet apps

Android’s Checklist advises against the use of “stretched” UIs in tablet apps

Raise the Bar for Featured Tablet Apps

Hey Android, it’s OK to have stretched phone apps on tablets. I know this contradicts what I’ve been saying so far but first, we can’t expect every developer to port their app for tablets, and second, there are instances when apps wouldn’t really benefit from a tablet-optimized layout. As a matter of fact, one of Android’s strengths has been the fact that most apps scale well between different screen sizes so you’re not stuck with a 2x stretched and pixelated version of the phone version like on the iPad.

However, the fact that you can use and install phone apps on tablets doesn’t mean that you should either promote them or feature them. The least Google can do is follow its own Quality Checklist before featuring any app on the tablet Store or in the Staff Picks for Tablets section. This means a no-no to Etsy and all Etsy-like apps. If you’re wondering why I’m so adamant about it, it’s because the app is excellent on phones but is designed as portrait-only and simply stretches out on tablets with no landscape layout. It doesn’t follow any of the checklist requirements at all yet if you have a tablet, this was suggested to you when you visited the Play Store last week.

Etsy on a 7" tablet

Etsy on a 7″ tablet

And while we’re on the topic of Featured and Staff Picks, we really need the “Staff” team to spend more time on picking real apps instead of games. Right now, about 95% of the Staff Picks for Tablets section is dedicated to games, with only a few apps recommendations.

It’s Now or Never

We all know that Google’s goal was to completely neglect the distinction between phone and tablet apps at first, focusing on the fact that Android apps scale well between all screen sizes. However, as hinted by the Android Developer Checklist, the company is starting to realize that there’s a real market for apps optimized for tablets. The problem is that there’s a difference between recognizing an issue and fixing it, and so far, the fixing part has been sloppy at best.

Well, the time to get serious about tablet apps is not “now”, it should have been several months ago with the launch of the Nexus 7, but there’s still time to catch up. And the slower Google and the Android team move, the harder it will be to erase the “bad apps” stigma that their tablets have been tainted with in all the media and technology blogs.

As an Android tablet owner and fan, all I can do is rant, and keep doing all that I can to point users towards to best apps, then hope that Google fixes this mess sometime in 2013.