Ever since the first Motorola Xoom rolled off the production lines two and a half years ago, Google’s struggled to convince developers that their Android apps need to look beautiful on larger tablet displays.
With the upcoming launch of Google’s second-generation Nexus 7 tablet, I was hoping the situation would have greatly improved by now. The original Nexus 7 sold fairly well, and Android tablets in general now account for more than half of all tablets shipped, if you count devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire. You’d think there would be a market for tablet-optimized Android apps, especially for the most popular apps.
But after doing some comparisons between the Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store for Android, it’s clear that Android is still behind the iPad–though not as far as it used to be. Just as I did with Windows 8 a few weeks ago, I’ve put together a list of the most popular iPad apps of all time, and looked at how many are available in tablet form.
Here’s the comparison for paid apps, where “not optimized” means the Android version is just a blown-up smartphone app:
Android actually does pretty well on this list. Many of the most popular iPad apps are games, and most games look just fine on Android tablets. One notable exception is Words with Friends, which has a snazzy-looking tablet version for 10-inch displays, but not for 7-inch devices like the Nexus 7. (Although this list doesn’t show it, Android is a weaker gaming platform than iOS. Games tend to show up late on Android or not at all, so you’d be missing out on games like Knights of the Old Republic, Limbo and Infinity Blade.)
Regarding GarageBand and iMovie, I’ve said this before, but Google should take the lead and make some killer Android apps like these. Both iMovie and GarageBand are excellent apps that help justify the iPad as more than a consumption device, and there’s really nothing that comes anywhere close on Android.
Now let’s look at free apps:
Many of the most popular iPad apps are available for Android, but they aren’t always designed to take advantage of the extra real estate of tablet displays. Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and Pandora are the worst offenders, stretching out their interfaces instead of filling the screen with sidebars and menus. (I’ve put a side-by-side comparison of Pandora at the top of this piece.)
Some apps that claim to be tablet-friendly are just barely so on Android. The New York Times, for instance, gives you a sidebar of extra stories when you browse the front page in landscape mode, but when you’re reading a story, you don’t get the iPad version’s lovely column view and story teasers:
The good news for Android fans is that the tablet app situation may soon improve. Each section of the Google Play Store now has an option to view apps that are designed for tablets. And at the Google I/O developers conference in May, the company announced new tools to help developers see how their apps look across a variety of display sizes. Both of those things could help encourage app makers to perform the necessary tablet tweaks.
And just in case I sound overly crabby, Android does have a much better tablet app selection than it used to. Apps like Flipboard, SoundHound, Pocket Casts and Pinterest all look great on Android tablets, and they either didn’t exist or weren’t properly optimized a year ago when the first Nexus 7 launched.
It’s just so frustrating to open up some of my favorite apps–Yelp, Rdio, ESPN ScoreCenter and Fandango, to name several that aren’t on the lists above–and have them look subpar on my Nexus 7. You can find some great tablet apps on Android these days, but you can still count on Tim Cook to flaunt Apple’s advantage the next time he announces a new iPad.