Android Tablets: Nice House, Not Much Furniture

There's no shortage of Android tablet hardware to choose from this upcoming holiday season. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for quality, tablet-optimized Android apps.

With the 2012 holiday season right around the corner, you might be thinking of buying a new tablet for yourself or as a gift for a loved one. You might be considering an Android tablet. And you might be disappointed—by the apps. Here's why.

Google Nexus 10

On the surface, things are looking great for Android tablets. On Monday, IDC reported that Samsung and Amazon Android tablet sales surged in the third quarter of 2012 while Apple iPad sales slowed. Presumably, potential iPad owners were holding off to see if Apple would release an iPad mini. Even so, there’s no denying Android’s growth in popularity.

Meanwhile, consumers have some sexy new Android tablets to choose from, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD models, Google’s Nexus 10 (pictured above), and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.

There’s just one problem—one that even Google has acknowledged. There simply aren’t very many compelling Android tablet apps.

At the moment, there are roughly 700,000 Android apps, according to Google. However, Google hasn’t said exactly how many Android apps are optimized to take advantage of a tablet’s screen size. (By comparison, Apple says there are 700,000 iOS apps in total, with about 275,000 native iPad and iPad mini apps.) So it’s anyone’s guess, outside of Google, how many Android tablet-optimized apps exist.

Most apps for Android smartphones will run on tablets, too. But they often look stretched out and unappealing; Facebook on Android is a good example. And many popular iOS apps are also available for Android tablets, such as Evernote, Instapaper, Mint.com, Hulu Plus, various Angry Birds flavors and such. (For more, see “Best Google Nexus 7 Apps: 16 Android-Tablet Downloads, All Free.”)

That said, when I poke around in Tablified Market HD, an app store that’s specifically focused on Android tablet apps, I feel like I’ve arrived at a party way too early. Sure, there are lots of apps in there. But I don’t get the sense that the "cool crowd" has arrived in full force. And I definitely don’t see apps I want that I couldn’t also get on an iPad.

Over time, this situation will improve—probably sooner than later. Google is actively wooing tablet app developers. By pricing its least expensive tablet, the iPad mini, at $329, Apple has given a lot of potential tablet owners financial incentive to buy a cheaper Android alternative, some of which cost $199 or less. Amazon and Barnes & Noble tablets are also popular among those who love e-books but also want a tablet.

For the immediate future, though, the allure of an all-purpose Android tablet’s hardware is bound to lead many people to buyer’s remorse, once they see the paucity of great tablet-optimized Android apps. Or put in real estate terms, an Android tablet is like a cool designer house--with very little furniture.

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