How Amazon Plans to Tackle a Lack of Tablet-Optimized Android Apps

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets have a lot to offer that vanilla Android tablets don’t–lower prices and a larger media selection, for example–but a huge selection of tablet-optimized apps isn’t one of them.

Still, Amazon has a few ideas on how to improve the situation. In an interview, Aaron Rubenson, director of Amazon’s Appstore, explained how the company will try to get over Android’s tablet app issue and encourage developers to optimize for larger screens.

(MORE: Review: Kindle Fire HD Is a Very Amazon Tablet)

The answer is partly about getting the little things right to attract more app developers. Amazon has recently improved its tools and documentation for developers, with sample code for them to follow and emulators to test on. And last April, Amazon launched in-app purchase capabilities for all developers, opening the Appstore to freemium software. (Rubenson said average revenue from these apps is twice as high as apps that have an up-front cost.)

More interesting, though, is Amazon’s willingness to flag down apps that don’t look very good on tablet displays. Unlike Android’s Google Play Store, where there’s little gatekeeping involved, the Amazon Appstore has an approval process similar to the one Apple employs for iPhone and iPad apps. That gives Amazon a chance to call out developers whose apps aren’t working well on tablets.

“If developers have simply stretched out a phone app, and they’re having issues with that type of layout, one of our people will identify that and communicate that information back,” Rubenson said.

That’s not to say Amazon is rejecting every blown-up phone app. The Appstore team is mainly looking for apps that have been stretched to the point where the interface is difficult to read or interpret, tap zones aren’t clear, or text is clashing. “Between there and perfection, there’s a spectrum, and it’s a little bit of a judgment call,” Rubenson said.

Amazon can’t be too selective either, since its app selection is already much smaller than that of Apple or Google. The Amazon Appstore now has just over 51,000 apps, Rubenson said, compared to over 600,000 in Google Play and over 700,000 in the iOS App Store.

Rubenson didn’t have an estimate for how many of Amazon’s apps are properly formatted for tablets, but he insisted that the Appstore has a “big number” of them already. He also thinks that once developers have coded for the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, optimizing their apps for the upcoming 8.9-inch model is “not that significant of a hurdle.”

We’ll have to see how that claim holds up. In my experience, 7-inch tablets such as the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 can get away with stretched out smartphone apps. Their screens aren’t too much bigger, and their screen resolutions are about the same as today’s high-end phones, so Amazon can afford a bit more leniency. But the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD has a larger screen and a much higher resolution (1920-by-1200, compared to 1280-by-800 on the 7-inch model), so developers have a lot more empty space to fill.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD isn’t due out until November 20, and the press hasn’t been allowed to spend much time with it yet, so it’s impossible to say whether Amazon has a good handle on the phone-tablet app divide. But if Kindle Fire users end up staring at huge gaps of empty space on their tablet apps, Amazon will face a tough call: Either let more blown-up phone apps slide by, or crack down and risk slower growth in its app selection.

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