Last Updated: January 28th, 2012

When the iPad first hit the market, it changed the way consumers looked at computing, mobile devices, and productivity. It provided an easy way to accomplish basic tasks, a convenient way to surf the web, and bridged the gap between laptop and smartphone. As the natural competitor to iOS, Android had to fire back with a device that was comparable in function: the Motorola XOOM, the world's first Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet. The XOOM and most subsequent Honeycomb tablets have achieved both form and functionality that rivals - and in most cases, bests - that of the iPad/2, so why hasn't the Android tablet market exploded?

I can answer that question with one simple word: apps.

The adoption of Honeycomb tablets has been less than spectacular due to the serious lack of tablet-specific applications. Sure, most apps upscale properly, and that works out fine in some cases (like games, for example), but why should users have to run the same version of Facebook, Twitter, or Google Docs that they run on their phone? Doesn't that almost defeat the purpose of having such a large, beautiful screen? You're damn right it does. The battle isn't lost though, because there are a few simple things that Google can do to help fix this conundrum.

The Android Developers Challenge

It has been almost two years since Google held an Android Developers Challenge. Dozens of wonderful apps were a direct result of previous dev challenges, and a Honeycomb-specific challenge would be a great way to encourage developers to either create a new tablet-centric app, or incorporate a tablet interface into an existing app. But one of the main purposes of the Android Developers Challenge is to not only encourage the development of better apps, but to get more developers interested in Android as a platform. In order to do this, the application writing process needs to be as simple and functional as possible, which brings me to my next point:

Fix the Honeycomb emulator

One of the most common complaints about Honeycomb development is how much the emulator just downright sucks. It's not only impractical, but highly frustrating and discouraging if you want to try and create something without the proper tools. If you're repairing a vehicle, what good does a broken wrench do? Sure, you still have a wrench, but if it doesn't work the way it's supposed to, then it serves little purpose in your toolbox.

Developer Workshops

Even with the right tools, though, a little encouragement, help, and support would go a long way. That's why I think that Google really needs to take control of the situation by inviting developers into its house. That's exactly what HP did and, as a direct result, the Touchpad will have more apps than Honeycomb when it launches. Workshops are a great way for devs to collaborate, learn new tips and tricks, and get the help they need to tweak things to perfection - and who better to provide such a service than the one who started it all?

There are so many other points that can spawn from this, but the brick-and-mortar is simple in idea: in order to solidify the success of Android-powered tablets for the future, Google will need to embrace and nurture the development community in addition to providing the tools needed to successfully promote Honeycomb-specific app development. And, with Ice Cream Sandwich on the horizon, now might be the best time to incorporate such a change.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • slinky317

    I think it's pretty clear that Honeycomb is a stop-gap. Once Google releases ICS, all development will go towards that.

    • GergS

      Indeed. I feel like Honeycomb was just a "me too!" release while a real solution is being worked on.

      • Jon Garrett

        I hope you're both right. Im currently an iPhone 4 user AND a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 user and I must say that I was a bit disappointed when I got my first Android device and still dont have a lot of apps to really enjoy my tablet but Im glad I have it and Im happy with it....for now.

        • David

          Honeycomb is definitely a stopgap. I've developed a few apps for the market, but I'm by no means an "award developer", so... this is what I've seen:

          1- Honeycomb is definitely possible and quick to develop tablet-only apps. But you have 2 codes to maintain, and I refuse to do that.

          2- Honeycomb needs extra fluff to create apps that work both in tablets and phones alike. See the I/O 2011 app. You can clearly see the extra work that developers must make in order to both logics to work together. Basically you "branch" some parts in the code. Right now I'm experiencing with this method and I've noticed that *lots* of things are always repeated in some way or another in all apps that take this approach. I can see ICS/4.0 abstracting lots of those things. But it's not impossible like those so called "tech" blogs make it to be. At least not to 90% of the Market apps, in which I'm included. By the way, this arbitrary "90%" means all simple apps (not necessarily bad apps) like guides, magazines, utils, reference panels and stuff like that. Not games or complicated visuals, at least I can't talk about that.

          Fragmentation exists, but it's nowhere near what people make it up. This only tells their ignorance for developing. Again, I'm not talking about game studios etc. But for trivial, std UI apps, it's not what they tell.

  • http://zalzalaweb.com/jens anakin78z

    Development is really much more of an issue than it should be. A lot of the stuff that should work just doesn't, and it's REALLY frustrating for a developer when something that has worked for every version of Android suddenly stops working and fixes feel more like cheats.

  • Kyle

    How about they realease the effing source code already?

    • SiliconAddict

      They won't. Honeycomb is not a merged code base with phones. I think this is making Google uber twitchy. Ice Cream Sandwich is going to be where google gets everything merged into a single code and releases it to the masses.

      • Someone

        smart developers look at Google's source code to see how things are done... since the online documentation is rather lackluster.

        Microsoft used to suck at documentation, but now they are awesome at it! I have high hopes that Google will improve the documentation.

  • Skillit

    I don't think Honeycomb is taking a beating, what did you expected, that it would take 50-60% of apple market share within the first few months, it took more than 10% already and that is something.

    Honeycomb is clearly a stopgap not made to conquer the market, but to stop apple to get to much of a foot hold on to the tablet arena.

    The apps are gonna come, but what is really going to make the Android tablets are the lower price points and hardware innovation just like the smartphones.

  • http://delete92 lvnatic

    Just wait for ice cream sandwich.

  • http://twitter.com/@free2malloc free2malloc

    10% of the market? The numbers I've seen are closer to 25% which is astounding. Still, although apps are a huge part of this, another point is the fact that it is closed source in itself. This limits the vendors who can participate. Notion Ink could have had a firm footing in the tablet market if Honeycomb were released open source as was expected in 2010, now... I doubt they'll recover from this, but I am hopeful to see something upon the ICS release.

    Sure, iOS is closed source and they aren't having issues, but quite simply iOS devices can't do what Android devices do; and what it can, certainly not nearly as well.

    • http://schpydurx.livejournal.com ProfessorTom

      quite simply iOS devices can't do what Android devices do; and what it can, certainly not nearly as well.
      Cite your source.

  • Falken

    Tablets need to be a lot cheaper!!

    Many software houses are still waiting to see if tablets sell in large quantities before they throw lots of money into developing software for them. Us geeks know they'll be very popular but the business managers are still waiting to be convinced.

    The only way to break this catch-22 situation is for tablets to be dirt-cheap.

    • JayMonster

      This is complete and utter BS and Google knows it which is why they won't let the mediocre (or worse) manufacturers get their hands on Honeycomb.

      Lower prices will eventually get lower based on economy of scales, but cheap for the sake of cheap doesn't help. Just look at the ViewSonic G Tablet and similar products.

      On top of that, the Transformer is $399. So already there is more than competitive with the iPad.

      I know nowadays everybody thinks everything should be dirt cheap, but quality has a price, and that is not going to be the deciding factor.

  • L boogie

    I guess waiting for ice cream sandwich should bring the answers to honeycomb's dilemmas afterall, tablets are getting a better foothold (though pricing, apps etc is still working process) and it's a just matter of time before everything falls into place.

  • Michael

    I know price is a big issue but compare it to phones and laptops. If you were to go out and buy a phone off contact how much is it going to cost you? $400+ and a laptop is $1000 + for a god one. Tablets I'd day is the middle ground and thats where they are price wise. Btw yes I do agree the price is horrendous but thats how I look at it.

    • Deon

      You can pickup fully functional netbook, capable of running full programs, browser, flash, basic games, etc. for $200-$300. That's why I never understood why I'd spend $600-$800 on a tablet when I can pick up a decent notebook for $400-$500 and a netbook for $200-$300

      You can pickup a Core i3 notebook for $500. If I want portability and battery life I go with a 10 hour netbook. That's why I never really considered Tablets anything more than a craze and never considered getting one, not an iPad or an Android Pad. I do love my Android phone though.

      • JayMonster

        However nothing on the items in the price range you mention have:

        A solid state drive.
        A display better than WVGA.
        A capacitive display.
        Battery life any better than 5 hours.
        And so on.

        A tablet is not just a laptop without a keyboard... there are many more expensive components in tablets.

  • Danny

    Tablets do serve a purpose for people that are on the go and need access to their emails and web resources quickly as they are very portable and do not have the same bulk as a laptop.

  • Brian

    I have the ASUS TRANSFORMER and it really rocks...

  • Zigmar

    Actually even before honeycomb working with an emulator is quite frustration on anything, but a high-end machine. Also I can't really see how one can develop an Android app without real hardware to test on, and if you have one, you will end up working with it instead of emulator in most cases, just because it is waaaay faster.

    • http://www.brabbler.com Eric

      I develop on a 6 year old Macbook(not pro) and I never had any issues with the 1.x-2.x emulators(yes, obviously physical hardware is faster)

      The Honeycomb emulator, though, is completely unusable.

      • Zigmar

        I have a decent, though quite old desktop, and Gingerbread emulator in WVGA resolution is hardly usable.

  • Phil

    I've gotta call BS on this one. As someone else mentioned how are you actually determining that Honeycomb is taking a beating? The only worthwhile tablets have only been out there a short time and one can't keep up with demand. Everything else is either to expensive or just not that good of a tablet.

    And lets be real about price. Analysts said the iPad was useless and the day it was announced Apple's stock price dropped. They were right. What they were wrong on was whether people would buy into a craze of buying a useless piece of hardware. Now there are some good uses for tablets but lets be honest....the vast majority of folks sucking up iPads have no need for them. Its just cool to have. I've watched too many people invent reasons for "needing" one and I've only seen a few that actually make good use of one. For the useful things people do with their iPad I can do with an Android tablet.

    So no apps will not help. The devices are luxury devices and unless Google or an OEM comes up with a way to make them a vanity item they aren't going to sell to the masses. The whole "don't have any apps" crap is just the latest Apple fanboy talking point and you're pretty much playing right into it.

    • Cameron Summerson

      The lack of apps designed for Honeycomb is far from an "Apple fanboy talking point" - it's the biggest problem with Honeycomb. If you can't see that, then you are clearly not all that familiar with Honeycomb.

      Don't get me wrong - I have a Honeycomb tablet and I love it. However, the lack of good, usable apps is quite frustrating. As I stated in the article, if I want to use my Tab for Google Docs, I'm stuck with an upscaled phone app. That is an outrageous waste of screen real estate - especially after seeing how elegant Google can make its own apps work on Honeycomb. Take the Gmail app for example - it's an absolute pleasure to use. Often times, I even prefer it over the desktop version.

      This is the exact type of experience that I, and most other users, are looking for out of a Honeycomb tablet.

      So yes, the problem *is* apps or, rather, lack thereof.

      • ben dover

        the gmail app has set the bar! Like you said, I prefer it over the desktop version more often than not. it's apps with the quality of gmail that will make the tablet market explode.

        I agree, there are too many apps that work fine on the tablet but are either a pain or just don't give that awesome tablet feel.

        Words with friends is a perfect example of an app that was updated for a tablet. they updated it to use fragments and now it looks nice on a tablet and allows you to move around the app quicker because of the extra screen space.

    • JaToMa

      Exactly. In Europe (especially Germany) there are only 3 Honeycomb Tablets, the XOOM, the Transformer, and the Acer A500, available yet. Samsung Galaxy 10.1 is still not there and HTC has not even announced a Honeycomb Tablet yet. I would love to see a HTC Tablet, or at least hold a Galaxy 10.1 in my hand before deciding which one to get. That's me as a 'geek'.
      Now consider all those potential Tablet buyers, that don't read these blogs. What will they buy? Of course the shiny iPad, it's everywhere. On each and everey city light board there are posters of the iPad. I have seen one poster with an Acer Tab, which was just shown as a product of a resaler.
      Apps are not that important. The screen size helps to see everything including Facebook in the standard browser.

      As long as there are still devices to come, that might be better, everyone will wait to get one.

      Btw. Even the Galaxy 10.1 sucks due to missing sd-card, hdmi, usb support. (Adapters are no solution!) But I think I just can't wait any longer.

  • Elvis

    Oh gosh the hc emulator is massive garbage and my comp is amazing lol

  • Lee

    Isn't the web/html5 versions of Facebook and Google docsgood enough? I mean, I thought the main purpose of an app is to simplify web interfaces for smaller displays? What Facebook would need is a notification that takes you to the web browser instead of the app.

    • JayMonster

      That is the problem that the author is speaking about. Things like Google Docs and m.Facebook.com are designed for phone screens and thus, no... not a good tablet experience as they do not take advantage of the larger screen real estate while the full web experience os meant for mouse and not fingers. So at present the tablet sits somewhere in the middle with a less than ideal experience.

      • Lee

        I agree about mouse and keyboard but not entirely. I have a windows 7 tablet PC and I feel that Microsoft has done a great job in getting the touch screen to map to a mouse and keyboard which makes Facebook and Google Docs for example entirely useable. But still many html5 apps could still be programmed to take advantage of a multi-touch screen, like pinch zoom for example, and integration with the OS through notifications would make the experience several times better.

        I just thought it was rather funny that for as long as I've had a windows tablet PC, I've never thought I needed an app for Facebook or Google docs. In fact I hate the Facebook android app and occasionally have to use the web interface because some features are not available or are broken.

  • http://www.caffeineindustries.com MonkMartinez

    The real problem isn't anything you've mentioned. Its actually two fold. One, developing apps for the market and praying you'll get paid or make it worth your time is a real problem. I offer no solution here.

    Two and the biggest reason; Its getting more and more complex to write even basic apps using the SDK. "Fragments" are seriously troubled and a giant PITA with shite documentation. Styling your app requires miles of boilerplate and tedium. The general verbosity of the SDK is tiring.

    The layering of complexity on top of complexity isn't winning the hearts and minds of devs. I'm a dev and I'm looking for other methods to write apps... The economics of my time and effort just don't make sense with pure Android SDK developing.

    The layouts have become easier to write thanks to Xav and Tor's work on the tooling. However, wiring it all up is an exercise in tedium that is downright painful. Then testing become problematic... and so on.

    Where is Google going with Android? Where does it fit in with Chrome... what technology do you place your long-term bets on? Is the browser (which is shite in Android) going to kill apps in the long run? Those are big questions.

  • Duane

    Just a correction on the developer challenge, there is one happening at the moment (although only open to developers in Africa). I suppose it's not exactly the same, but a challenge non the less.

  • Paul Baarn

    The problem is not with the apps. The Apple iPad is first in the mind of potential customers if they think about a tablet. Apple has effectively turned it into a cool hip must-have device. I think most people going into the store for a tablet are not looking for thousands of special apps. The want a device that they can use to read e-mail, surf the internet, watch pics, and stuff like that. I know several people with iPads who have maybe installed 5 apps since they bought it.

    Apps are only a problem when business provide a specific iPad app. They don't provide a honeycomb app, so I know I need to get an iPad if I want to use those apps. That situation won't be fixed by what you're saying. It will be fixed when Honeycomb has a market share that makes it worthwile for business to provide a Honeycomb version of their apps. So I think it's market share before apps, instead of the other way around

    • JayMonster

      Few things outside the Apple world have a built in sheep factor and assumed audience. Thus marketshare vs. apps becomes a catch-22. Devs don't want to build without a market, the market waits for apps to become available.
      That is where the authors suggestion of the dev challenge comes in. The opportunity to win something gives the devs a reason to build besides marketshare, builds the base of apps available, and thus eliminates the perceived lack of apps so you can build marketshare, thus giving devs the reason to continue to write for the platform.

    • ben dover


      so you would rather use the mobile version of gmail rather than the gmail app?

      I understand what you're saying but it's apps with the quality of gmail that make the tablet experience what it is!

      I would sell my transformer if I lost my tablet version of gmail. it's the only app that would suck not having. the rest of honeycomb is just "fun" and nothing more right now