Brent Rose has just published a tremendously insightful article on the PC World Web site about the current lack of Android 3.0 Honeycomb apps. He starts the article by nothing that there were few Honeycomb-optimized android apps at the February launch of Honeycomb and there are still few Honeycomb-optimized apps to be had four months later.
“What gives?” asks Rose. Then he answers the question based on his own research. He asked six app developers and he got very similar answers.
It turns out there’s a technical problem and there is a marketing problem. The technical problem is one that plagues all multigeneration software development. Often, you cannot foresee technology developments a generation or two ahead so apps development too closely targets current-generation hardware. In the case of Android, the hidden evolution was screen size. Honeycomb is optimized for screens that are 8.9 inches or larger, which presents a problem for many apps that were originally developed for Android-based smartphones. Text presents a particular problem here because “the Android SDK does not automatically scale fonts.” In addition to text-scaling issues, graphic images developed specifically for small screens look pixelated and blocky when scaled to more generous proportions.
Some app developers, particularly game developers, can circumvent such problems by using third-party development engines to build apps that automatically accommodate screens of different sizes. Unity and Fuse are two development engines specifically named by developers quoted in Rose’s article. Without such engines, there’s a lot of expensive hand coding needed to change screen size.
The marketing problem involves the way Android market characterizes apps. There’s simply no way to identify apps that are optimized for Honeycomb writes Rose. There should be. “This is absurd” writes Rose. “There has to be a better way to search for Honeycomb-optimized apps.” The article notes that the Android marketplace is not static and does evolve, so presumably this problem will be fixed.
However, the biggest problem cited by all six developers interviewed by Rose is that the demand still isn’t there. Android tablets have yet to make a sales breakthrough. Rose points out that the same was true for Android phones. At first, they failed to make much of a dent in the market. Now, it’s a different story entirely.
“We’re just waiting for someone to create that must-have [Android tablet] product that everyone wants for Christmas” says one of the developers quoted in the article.