The Whizzo Blog

Honeycomb and the case of the missing Android tablet apps

This article on Ars Technica ponders the mystery of why there are so few Honeycomb-specific applications on Google's marketplace. They are comparing the situation with the iPad which had almost 1000 apps on launch day. I can agree with the speculation that some developers are waiting to create proper tablet versions of their apps rather than simply making their current phone apps fill a larger screen.

However, this statement jumped out at me:

And even if developers wanted to create such a “true tablet experience,” they’re hard-pressed to do it without the source code for Honeycomb, which Google is currently keeping a tight reign over.

Last I checked, there's no source code available for the vast majority of iOS, Windows, Mac OS X, etc. all of which have a vibrant developer community. Let's be realistic, people usually download an open source library's source code if the documentation is insufficient or there's a bug that can't be worked around. How many Linux developers writing an end-user application are downloading and pouring over the Linux kernel or GCC library source code to get their job done? The notion that an OS's source code needs to be available to create applications that sufficiently leverage the platform is utterly ludicrous.

In my opinion, there are two good reasons why Honeycomb isn't flooded with apps now that it's available.

  1. The Honeycomb emulator (part of the Android SDK) is mind-numbingly slow. It wasn't until a real device was available (the Motorola Xoom) that you could easily develop for Honeycomb. Even today, I use a Xoom as the only means of testing my in-development Honeycomb application -- the emulator is a joke. When Google released the Honeycomb SDK, they admitted that the emulator was much slower than the (already slow) Android 2.x emulator. But, months later they still haven't rectified that major issue. Couple that with the fact that, until this past weekend, the Xoom was only available through Verizon with a data plan. Not many developers are willing to shell out $800 (or even $600) to develop for a new platform. Google dropped the ball on supporting Honeycomb developers -- and the lack of apps in the marketplace is a direct result of it.
  2. All indications are that (with some exceptions) most developers are still finding it a challenge to make money on the Android Marketplace. It's a problem Google has acknowledged and committed itself to resolving. When iPad was announced and the SDK made available, there was a proven track record of Apple's App Store making money for its developers. There was good motivation for developers to swarm in and start developing for the newly announced platform. Android and Honeycomb don't provide the same assurances that developers will see sufficient ROI for their work. I, as much as all other Android developers, hope this situation will soon be a distant memory.

It is interesting that Google has been tightening the reigns on Android recently, and I hope that it will result in changes for the better. I don't believe it's at the point that it will scare developers away from the platform — yet. Frankly, if Google can figure out how to better monetize developer's efforts, it won't matter all that much anyway. Apple's closed-source iOS has already proven that. So far, it seems like Google's newly asserted authoritarianism is trying to bring consistency to and increase the appeal of the platform. Only time will tell.

Posted on Mar 31, 2011 by Dan.