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How much attention do Android tablets deserve?

January 18, 2012

Brian

As I’ve previously discussed, it can be tough to sort through the hype surrounding apps for smartphones.  As if that’s not confusing enough, now there are tablets to consider.  Are they worth spending resources on?  Can’t I just use my smartphone app?  If not, can I at least leverage my smartphone app?  Can the same people that make Android smartphone apps make Android tablet apps?  How hard is to make a tablet-optimized app?  With this post, I’d like to help you understand the value in Android apps for tablet devices and the effort involved in creating one.

Let me start with the most important number: 4%*.  That’s the percent of of Android devices that are tablets.  Not so exciting, is it?  To be fair, this figure represents over 3 million tablets, but that’s not much compared to 38 million iPads that Apple sold last year.  The short answer to the title of this post is “No.”  You don’t need a tablet app.  But you still might want one.

First, figure to see less competition in the tablet space.  There are a zillion news apps out there, but not so many that are optimized for tablets.  Second, expect higher engagement with tablets, where users are likely to be sitting on the couch for a browsing session rather than checking their phone for the 10 seconds before the light changes.  Besides user preference, you also have to opportunity to engage more fully with rich media content.

You can re-purpose an Android smartphone app for tablets.  In fact, if you make use of the standard flexible layout options in Android, your app figures to look okay on tablets with little or no tweaking.  You can take it a step further and re-work some of your smartphone app to be tablet-friendly while still making use of what your development team has already written.  A common example would be a news application.  On the smartphone version, you’ll have one screen that lists headlines and another screen that shows the story for a single headline.  On the tablet version, the headlines will show on the left side of the screen and the selected story will show on the rest of that same screen.  I generally wouldn’t recommend going further than that — creating two completely separate apps for smartphones and tablets — but I’m sure somebody out there has a good reason to.

In conclusion, don’t fret too much about Android tablets right now.  Make sure your development team writes your screen layouts to be flexible (which is good practice anyway), and keep an eye on the tablet market.  Visit the Official Android Screen Sizes Chart every few months and look for growth in “large” and “xlarge” screens, and if it becomes a big enough piece of the pie for your tastes, dive in.

Many thanks to Mary Ellen Slayer of Reputation Capitalization for indirect inspiration on the topic of this post.  Mary Ellen is an expert at helping companies create value with their blogs.  She’ll even help write the posts if it’s all too overwhelming.

* Despite the bold typeface, this is still just an estimate.  It’s based on the 3.3% of Android devices that access the Android Market are using the tablet-only Honeycomb version of Android (3.0/3.1/3.2), and a educated guess of 0.7% for the small collection of other Android tablets that are not on Honeycomb.  This ignores a number of Android tablets that do not participate in the Android Market, but these tablets are not big sellers, and you’re not going to reach them in the Market, so don’t worry about them.

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