Compared to iPad, Tablet Apps Are Still Android’s Weak Point

The upcoming Nexus 7 won't match the iPad's app selection, but there are signs of improvement.

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Pandora

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:

paidipadvsandroidapps

Jared Newman for TIME

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.

The good news is that Android isn’t wanting for tablet-optimized productivity suites. OfficeSuite looks great on tablets, but there are other options, like Google Drive and Kingsoft Office,

Now let’s look at free apps:

freeipadvsandroidapps

Jared Newman for TIME

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:

nytimesandroidvipad

New York Times, Apple

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.

15 comments
SirSquire
SirSquire

 when a tablet like Android isn't crippled with limitations such as flash or website not rendered properly is one reason why "there's an app for that" on Apple store compared to Play uh just load whatever you like do whatever you like experience LOL

gorks4yes
gorks4yes

Jared really doesn't know what he's talking about.  Vector graphics scaled up, look perfectly fine; raster images obviously don't, and in half the cases, they simply remain fixed in size, leaving a giant black space all around.  Speedtest comes to mind.

Most of the games and apps out in the Google Play market are scalable vector graphics based.  Optimized for tablets means that an app on a tablet looks very different from its smart phone relative, because it takes advantage of the extra pixels to add more info on the page -- not necessarily what you want.

The other issue with Jared's false equivalence chart, is that there are dozens of apps out there that you can substitute if an app is Apple-exclusive.

By the way, Jared hasn't told you about Google Sky Maps...because it's only on Android.  Once you've tried it, you'll be upset that it's not available anywhere else.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

If I want an android app I can design and implement my own. The same can't be said for Apple. I have no interest in playing in their sandbox.


IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

Compared to iPad, Tablet Apps Are Still Android’s Weak Point

However it was the iPad that took a steep nose dive ... 

jonthomas3rd
jonthomas3rd

Using Android, I want for nothing that Apple offers, this is just another troll of a story.

Tredibecca
Tredibecca

This is completely bogus.  Android isn't crippled like iOS.  It doesn't need apps done specifically for tablets.  I've had Android tablets since 2.1 - back before Google even supported tablets - and a lack of apps has never been an issue.  Somebody is upset that Google is the center of attention today.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@gorks4yes You're right, I have no idea what you're talking about. You're arguing that an app taking advantage of the extra pixels to add more info on the page is not what people want? Really? In the images in the story of Pandora and NYT it's pretty obvious to me that the iPad versions look better, because they do take advantage of those extra pixels. It's about more than just rendering text properly. I think blown-up smartphone apps with stretched out screen elements look like poo, but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

As for my chart, did you just choose to ignore the "Comparable app" category? It points out the cases where there is an equivalent app, as with Apple's Pages and Keynote (OfficeSuite is great on Android, as the article says.) It also specifically mentions Google Sky Maps.

But there isn't always an equivalent on Android. Trust me, i've looked for something like GarageBand on the Nexus 7, there isn't anything that comes anywhere close in terms of quality.

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

@PaulDirks "If I want an android app I can design and implement my own." Good for you.

"The same can't be said for Apple." You may not be able to, but many developers can.

"I have no interest in playing in their sandbox." The walled garden argument is really only true for the OS itself. Android gives developers many options for modding the look and feel of the OS, but for apps, that's not really true. If you like rooting your phone to get features you should have already had, then great. Root away. But the shear number of iOS apps and the high quality and functionality of many of them show that Google's "openness" is a theoretical argument, not something based on facts or reality.

hivemaster
hivemaster

@PaulDirks Good for you.  99% of users can't, however, so you don't really have a valid point.

feifonwong
feifonwong

@Tredibecca He isn't saying Android is crippled on the tablet front, more like its a disadvantage to the iPad. Which, it is if Google is putting in the effort to encourage devs to make app more optimized for tablets.

gorks4yes
gorks4yes

@newmanjb

No.  Your NYT citation is faulty.  If you bother to turn your Nexus 7 sideways, the NYT app looks a lot like the iPad version.  Keep it upright and the NYT app looks like the smart phone version.

Secondly, Sky Maps is far more popular on Android (269K ratings / 10M~50M installs) than Star Walk via iTunes (8K ratings / 6M installs).  I say they're not comparable.  On a slight departure of the topic, you don't seem to care that the Nexus 7 and most Android tablets have GPS, but the iPad Mini WiFi and other older iPads don't -- makes a big difference in user experience in sky-related apps.

Thirdly, the reality is that some tablet apps on Android are better than on the iPad, but no one would ever know it, because your chart implies that iPad apps are always better, and that Android apps are only either equivalent or worse.

So yeah, I have a right to blast your post.