Google Recognizes the Need for Better Tablet App Discovery

If you have been following Android.Appstorm over the past couple of months, you must have noticed that we feel very strongly about Android tablets, and specifically Android tablet apps. We cried out to Google asking them to get serious about tablet-optimized apps discoverability in the Play Store, several writers on our team have rounded up tablet apps in a multitude of categories, and I personally maintain numerous Playboard channels axed towards spotlighting the best tablet-optimized apps.

Suffice it to say that tablet app discovery has been a personal cause for us, for the simple reason that we know there are thousands of excellent options out there, but Google had failed to make them visible which in turn had everyone thinking there aren’t any. So you can imagine how elated we were to see Google at I/O introducing new features that focus on tablet apps discovery, from a developer and a user standpoint. While the announcements weren’t the most impressive out of the I/O keynote, and they should have come a year ago, they do mean a lot to us at Android.Appstorm that we can’t help but make a stop to explain to you why you need to get excited.

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We’ve Come a Long Way

For the longest time, Google’s stance about tablet apps was along the lines of “Android apps stretch and adapt to any screen size, so really any app is a tablet app.” This has always been technically true, but it never negated the fact that some apps are optimized to take advantage of a larger screen estate, whether in portrait or landscape.

This stance changed during I/O, with Google recognizing that there is a “designed for tablets” category of apps that could suit the larger screens much better than a stretched phone version. And it comes at a perfect time when Android tablets are finally surpassing their rival iPad in market share, despite the “there are no tablet apps” stigma that has been following them. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Android tablets are about to get even more popular.

Encouraging Developers to Design for Tablets

One of the new sections of the Android Developer Console is “Optimization Tips” where developers are prominently encouraged to optimize their app’s design for tablets following a set of quality guidelines, and then upload the resulting screenshots for 7″ and 10″ screens. The latter suggestion has been pushed by the Android Developer Blog since last month, but it will surely be taken more seriously now.

New optimization tips in the Developer Console: design for tablets and upload tablet screenshots.

New optimization tips in the Developer Console: design for tablets and upload tablet screenshots.

Another new feature comes with the new Android Studio, which brings the option to preview the app with all its design elements on various screen sizes and resolutions — without having to compile the code and install it on a physical device to test it out. This should simplify the process of coding and optimizing apps for different screens, including 7″ and 10″tablets.

Android Studio lets developers preview their apps on various screen sizes, including tablets.

Android Studio lets developers preview their apps on various screen sizes, including tablets.

“Designed for Tablets” Filter for Users

Both of these developer pushes and changes wouldn’t make a difference if users were still unable to find the tablet-optimized apps easily on the Play Store. That’s why there’s a new drop-down visible on tablets that offers the option to view all apps or only those that are “designed for tablets.”

The Play Store now offers a "Designed for tablets" filter.

The Play Store now offers a “Designed for tablets” filter. (Image courtesy of Android Police)

Unfortunately, this drop-down only works in the sections and top lists — not in search results — and will rely on developers to complete their tablet design guidelines checklist and upload appropriate screenshots. However, it is a major step for tablet app visibility and should encourage developers to make the commitment in the first place.

It’s Only the Beginning

All of these improvements are nice enough for us to calm down and rejoice in the knowledge that the Android team recognizes the need for a specific tablet-optimized section and is actively working towards pushing more and better apps. However, these are only one of many necessary baby steps.

Filtering tablet apps in the Play Store search results is an obvious missing component, so is a certain degree of control over what gets through that filter — a lot of phone apps are trickling into the cracks, which should be avoided in the future. I’m also rather disappointed by the Editor’s picks and Featured sections on the tablet Play Store, which are still showing suggestions from all apps, instead of being limited to the new “Designed for Tablets” collection.

But there’s no denying that these new developments leave us very optimistic, if only because Google’s new stance should launch a feedback loop, with more developers designing tablet apps and more users buying and downloading them, which in turn encourages more developers, and so on. All in all, it should quell all the “there are no android tablet apps” cries from users, reporters and bloggers.