Jul 18 AT 11:31 AM Anthony Domanico 68 Comments

The Complaint Department: Honeycomb and the Tablet Wars

It’s Monday, boys and girls, and you know what that means. The complaint department is back in session! In the crosshairs this week? Our favorite tablet operating system: Honeycomb.

It’s no surprise Apple is winning the tablet wars at the moment. Tablet sales are dominated by Apple’s iPad series, with the plethora of Android tablets being introduced failing to pick up traction. Though this can be attributed to a multitude of reasons, one of the biggest is the complete lack of high-quality applictions on the Honeycomb platform.

The number of applications that fully support Honeycomb tablets is in triple digits, while Apple’s tablet benefits from over 100,000 tablet applications. That’s not to say the few hundred Honeycomb applications out there are bad by any stretch; in fact, several of these applications are simply phenomenal (see CNN, nook or News360, to name a few). The problem is the applications that can’t be found on Honeycomb.

When I made the decision to purchase the Motorola Xoom over an Apple iPad 2, I did so even though I knew Honeycomb didn’t yet support Netflix or mlb.tv (via MLB’s At Bat 2011 application). These were, at the time, two of the main reasons I wanted to have a tablet. But with Honeycomb having only a handful of applications, support for these two services was nowhere to be found. Chances are, those of you who have also seriously considered an Android tablet have also had this experience. No matter which applications you deem “essential” for everyday use, you’re probably stuck with a scaled-up or tiny phone application or your application(s) simply aren’t supported in Honeycomb at all.

In my case, I still bet on the promise of what Honeycomb would become. After all, Google’s tablet-specific operating system had to match the tremendous growth it’s phone-based brother was experiencing, right?

Unfortunately, here we are six months after Honeycomb was released into the wild, and the app-scape still resembles a barren desert. Sure, there are a few oases to be found, but otherwise there’s nothing as far as the eye can see.

One of the main reasons developers have been slow to develop for Honeycomb is because Apple’s iPad and iPad 2 have a stranglehold on the tablet market. Developers want to put their applications where the money is. It makes much more financial sense to develop for iOS (if you’re only going to develop for one platform), since there’s much more money to be made on the platform that has over 50% of the installed market and users that are more likely to splurge on paid applications (see herehere, here and here, for example).

It appears companies are simply holding off on developing for Honeycomb until more consumers start purchasing Android tablets. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle, as consumers are holding off purchasing Android tablets until the application ecosystem grows. This creates a situation wherein Android tablets have failed to grow at the same exponential rate as their smartphone brethren. Sure, more Android tablets are being introduced every day, but consumers simply aren’t flocking to them in the same way they’ve flocked to Android devices; a fact that likely won’t change until Honeycomb differentiates itself by producing high-quality applications.

Recent stories have suggested the iPad is the tablet of choice for Android phone users. Personally, I don’t doubt this. I know several Android users who have chosen the iPad over the likes of the Xoom and Tab 10.1, likely attributed in no small part to the lack of applications on Honeycomb. Until this turns around, the mainstream consumer is going to continually choose the iPad 2 over any Android tablet.

Fortunately, new signs are emerging that a short-term fix for this problem may be right around the corner, courtesy of Honeycomb version 3.2. According to a story on ReadWriteWeb this morning, the Android 3.2 update brings with it an “iPad-like 2x mode” that essentially scales applications to better display on the larger-screened devices. How well this is accomplished remains to be seen, though this move will make the 200,000+ applications on the Android market available on Honeycomb devices.

The fact remains that, although scaled-up versions of phone applications are nice, having designed-for-tablet applications is a much more ideal solution to this problem.

Will this trend ever turn around? Is Google simply waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich to save the day? Does the 3.2 update with 2x mode provide enough of a fix for you to finally splurge on an Android tablet? If not, what is an ideal solution?  What’s your take on the Honeycomb platform?  Let us know your thoughts on these questions and more by dropping a comment below.

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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