Oct 19 AT 12:46 PM Sean Riley 18 Comments

Andy Rubin doesn’t believe in tablet-specific apps

andy-rubin-talk Image via: All Things D

One of the perennial complaints regarding Android tablets has been that there simply are not enough tablet-specific apps for the platform. Andy Rubin was asked about this concern at the All Things D conference in Hong Kong and had this to say:

I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet...if someone makes an ICS app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.Andy RubinGoogle

Well if that’s the view from the top, it would be understandable if the Android Market wasn’t exactly overflowing with tablet-specific applications.

I happen to think that isn’t the case. I’ve been trying for quite some time now to hunt down an accurate count on tablet optimized apps in the Android Market, and I now fully understand why that is a tough nut to crack.

Sure the Market has the “Featured Tablet Apps” section, but that has less than 100 apps in it. People will often cite this as the sum total of the tablet apps available on Android. Then we had David Pogue write a piece a few months ago that chose 232 as the magic number. What did the paper of record cite for that number? An Android Central forum thread. That number was wrong by an order of magnitude then, and yet I still hear it bandied about as being at least roughly accurate.

A simple Google search will tell you how wrong that count is. If you restrict a Google search to the Android Market and search for “3.0 and up” you will find approximately 5,900 distinct entries. Even back in July that count was on the order of 3,000 apps, something Pogue just dismissed because it “didn’t seem right.” In other words it didn’t fit his thesis, so he decided to throw it out. Keep in mind that number encapsulates those apps, widgets and wallpapers designed only for Honeycomb tablets. It ignores completely all the apps coded to properly display on a phone or a tablet, as Rubin would apparently prefer. I’d be surprised if the total didn’t, at a minimum, double if you were able to incorporate all those apps.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Rubin; I’ve used quite a few Android apps that simply scale as needed on my Galaxy Tab 10.1, and they look and work fantastically well. With that said there are also those that fail miserably at this task. The problem is the user has no real idea how each app is going to behave until they install it. Universal apps are wonderful, but developers should be able to flag their app as “tablet optimized” so I can filter for it when I’m looking in the Market.

What do you think? Does the Market need better filters to allow tablet users to more easily locate apps that are going to look good and work properly on their devices? Do you agree with the general idea that there shouldn’t be tablet specific apps, but rather apps should simply work no matter what hardware you’re using?

Via: This Is My Next

Sean has been with Android and Me for over 4 years and covering mobile for the last 5. He occasionally muses about gadgets and tech outside of the Android universe at Techgasms.

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  • BiGMERF

    i dont mind the fact that there are not many tablet specific apps because most adjust nicely. However when there is one, i greatly appreciate it. You can tell the difference

  • http://stefan.rusek.org/ Stefan Rusek

    You use both the words “Tablet Specific” and “Tablet Optimized” this aren’t the same thing. An app can be tablet optimized while still running great on other devices, but a tablet specific app only runs on tablets. Google has be been pretty clear to developers. Make apps that work great on all devices not just on tablets. At the same time, Google has made this hard by not having the same version of the OS on both tablets and phones.

    • http://www.technogasms.com Sean Riley

      There’s definitely a difference, I wasn’t trying to use those terms interchangeably.

      I can imagine that there might be an app that simply doesn’t make sense for a small screen and that would be tablet specific.

      As a user I’m more concerned with all of the tablet optimized apps that are difficult to identify.

      • http://lettersfromdave.wordpress.com daveloft

        The app could look entirely different on a phone than it does on a tablet without needing to be a separate app. It’s best to build one app with one set of resources and then different layout designs for phones and tablets. Like IMDb, Flixster Movies, feedly, Evernote and BeyondPod.

  • http://www.jeffkibuule.com Jeff

    A better explanation: “Rubin doesn’t like tablet-only APKs. Universal apps are better.”

  • Pziart

    These are great news and a very strong point for ICS.
    In fact, this is what we’ve been waiting for – less fragmentation.

    We read before that applications’ framework will be a bit different in order to maximize compatibility and appeal to both phones and tablets; the fact that market will be shared is awesome. Suddenly the tablet’s apps market just boosted since apps don’t need to be meant for tablets as in a whole new parallel version, they just need to be updated and become optimized for both platforms.

  • Andy in Indy

    The problem is that part of Android’s design philosophy is that the same app should run on all devices, and the market will filter out the ones that are not compatible. Developers have to say that they don’t want their apps showing up on tablets or other large screen devices. If developers would do this, as Google asks them to do, there would not be an issue. However, most Developers would rather have an ugly app in front of tablet users than no app. Google needs to give developers an incentive to make this change.

  • raveesh

    Well, Google’s done a ton of work to get Fragments to work perfectly, so any decent developer can create an app that works as it should on a phone and on a tablet without having to bother much about “tablet-optimizing”.

    If someone goes with a radical UI, it might be a concern and may need a separate APK. But I’m sure 99% of apps won’t need to go down that road.

    • Ben Gildenstein

      Not quite. Fragments allow you to more easily format portions of your applications UI for different form factors based on the screen dimensions, but it is still very much an active process (the developer is in control of the layout) and not automatic. For example, if you have a fragment of a list of email headings, and a fragment of email contents, you can choose how this layout will work on a device with a screen too small to hold both comfortably. It also lets you re-use these elements in different portions of your application and transition between them.
      source: http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/screens_support.html

      I agree with your second point: what Andy Rubin is referring to is that he doesn’t feel the need for an app specific to the tablet , another app for the phone, and an app for the TV. He believes that apps can be distributed in a single binary and work regardless of the medium and that Android makes this very easy to do.

  • AppleFUD

    Andy is correct. It’s a sad state that so many “journalists” are conditioned to the way apple does things–just because iOS is such a shitty OS that they need the developers to write a separate app for each form factor does not make it the case for every other OS.

    Do I download a different app for my 10″ netbook Vs my 32″ desktop? NO! The software scales properly.

    It shouldn’t be any different going from phone to desktop–the OS & app should scale properly and use the screen real estate accordingly and this is precisely what Android has been trying to accomplish instead of taking the iOS shortcut, making an app run the size of a phone on a tablet.

    so sick of ignorant “journalists” spewing apple’s FUD everywhere.

    • Glen

      I see you are the one spreading FUD. the iOS appstore has universal apps and games and this has become the norm now for most apps. They scale up according to device and scale up well. Prime examples include games like Infinity blade, Photo editing apps and RSS readers who just dont get magnified on the increased iPad real estate.

      Maybe ICS will help devs start developing universal apps too. So stop being uninformed

    • http://www.technogasms.com Sean Riley

      If you think I’m suggesting they need to write separate apps for tablets than you really missed what I was saying.

      I agree that universal apps make a great deal of sense and there will no doubt come a time in the not so distant future when everything is just written that way, but we aren’t there yet. For now if you are searching for apps in the Market you often have no idea whether you are downloading something that is going to work well on your tablet or not. It makes for a frustrating user experience and that’s not helping app developers or tablet manufacturers.

  • Phil

    I’ve said all along that these tablet app counts are pure BS. From the get go Google made it clear that they didn’t want separate apps. So I don’t understand why everybody is acting shocked at Rubin’s statement. They released API’s so that apps can adjust to work on any size screen. Theres no way to count these apps that I know of. Yet iFans and iFan bloggers insist on trying to judge Android by Apple’s ass backwards paradigm of “tablet specific” apps. And the fanboys take that talking point and run with it. Try to tell them about fragments and it goes right over their heads. Since all they know is the iPad they swear you are talking about scaling.

    What I don’t understand is why the Android blogging community has not stepped up long ago and set the matter straight. Its as if the Android community ignored Google’s call for single apps as well. Did Google not make this point clear enough? While its not going to be some giant amount I wonder how many tablets sales have been missed for some iFan telling someone that Android only has 100 tablet apps or something like that. And it DOES happen because I’ve seen it before with phones and other devices. In this day and age those talking points actually hit the bottom line.

    Hopefully as devs target ICS some of this mess starts to clear up. Hell hopefully we start seeing some updates to phones in the next 3-6 months so that devs do start targeting ICS. With it being such a change I don’t think OEM’s would want to be left behind.

  • Ribbign

    Didn’t Rubin, or someone else from Google, say a while back that tablet specific content (he might not have mention the word “app”) is really important? He was talking about it all relating to the context the user is in and you want different things from a app for bank errands (he used this example) if you’re out in about with your cellphone or if you’re sitting at home in your couch. I thought this sounded great at the time and I still do.

    That being said, we might not need apps that ONLY run on tablets. But as Sean mentions in the article there’s a difference between just upscaling a cellphone app and an app that actually gives you different content depending on what format you’re currently using. Like the bank errands example. When I’m on my phone I probably just want to check my balance or something like that while at home I might want a full list of all my accounts at the start screen.

    So – no, we don’t need tablet-SPECIFIC apps, but we do need apps still give you something SPECIFIC when used on a tablet. So even though this might be what Rubin thinks as well, I think that he’s not talking about the need for this type of app but the “un-need” off tablet-specific apps is kind of odd and brings attention to the wrong things.

    Also does anyone know what interview I’m talking about? I saw it on Youtube.

    • Ribbign

      Why a minus on that one though? Too long? Damn you guys are hard to please.

      • http://ArtisticAbode.com BetterWithRoot

        Don’t take it personally. A lot of times it’s the trolls. You’re thoughts are coherent, and you didn’t bash anybody personally; to me this is a good post. Someone may not agree with the the opinion, but others may. Either way this adds to the conversation. Thank you for posting. Don’t let a downvote discourage you.

    • raveesh

      I’m not quite sure as to Rubin’s exact words, but I’m sure he was pro-tablet content. He just doesn’t see the need for Tablet-only apps, or separate apps being created for different form factors.

      Perfect example is ICS itself. On a phone, it’s one thing, but when it’s on a tablet, it morphs into something different to take advantage of the bigger screen. And soon enough, when it’s on a TV, it’ll be something else.

      Code once for all platforms

  • http://www.infotainmentempire.com pekosROB

    Tablet optimized apps please… it’s kinda hard to make something that would look great on a 10.1″ screen look and feel the exact same way on something less than half that size.

    That being said, I understand the need to make it easier for developers to have apps available to the largest audience as possible, so having everything on one OS makes sense. But I like the tablet specific/optimized OS and apps!

  1. i dont mind the fact that there are not many tablet specific apps because most adjust nicely. However when there is one, i greatly appreciate it. You can tell the difference

  2. Stefan RusekGuest 3 years ago

    You use both the words “Tablet Specific” and “Tablet Optimized” this aren’t the same thing. An app can be tablet optimized while still running great on other devices, but a tablet specific app only runs on tablets. Google has be been pretty clear to developers. Make apps that work great on all devices not just on tablets. At the same time, Google has made this hard by not having the same version of the OS on both tablets and phones.

    • There’s definitely a difference, I wasn’t trying to use those terms interchangeably.

      I can imagine that there might be an app that simply doesn’t make sense for a small screen and that would be tablet specific.

      As a user I’m more concerned with all of the tablet optimized apps that are difficult to identify.

      • daveloftGuest 3 years ago

        The app could look entirely different on a phone than it does on a tablet without needing to be a separate app. It’s best to build one app with one set of resources and then different layout designs for phones and tablets. Like IMDb, Flixster Movies, feedly, Evernote and BeyondPod.

  3. JeffGuest 3 years ago

    A better explanation: “Rubin doesn’t like tablet-only APKs. Universal apps are better.”

  4. PziartGuest 3 years ago

    These are great news and a very strong point for ICS.
    In fact, this is what we’ve been waiting for – less fragmentation.

    We read before that applications’ framework will be a bit different in order to maximize compatibility and appeal to both phones and tablets; the fact that market will be shared is awesome. Suddenly the tablet’s apps market just boosted since apps don’t need to be meant for tablets as in a whole new parallel version, they just need to be updated and become optimized for both platforms.

  5. Andy in IndyGuest 3 years ago

    The problem is that part of Android’s design philosophy is that the same app should run on all devices, and the market will filter out the ones that are not compatible. Developers have to say that they don’t want their apps showing up on tablets or other large screen devices. If developers would do this, as Google asks them to do, there would not be an issue. However, most Developers would rather have an ugly app in front of tablet users than no app. Google needs to give developers an incentive to make this change.

  6. Well, Google’s done a ton of work to get Fragments to work perfectly, so any decent developer can create an app that works as it should on a phone and on a tablet without having to bother much about “tablet-optimizing”.

    If someone goes with a radical UI, it might be a concern and may need a separate APK. But I’m sure 99% of apps won’t need to go down that road.

    • Ben GildensteinGuest 3 years ago

      Not quite. Fragments allow you to more easily format portions of your applications UI for different form factors based on the screen dimensions, but it is still very much an active process (the developer is in control of the layout) and not automatic. For example, if you have a fragment of a list of email headings, and a fragment of email contents, you can choose how this layout will work on a device with a screen too small to hold both comfortably. It also lets you re-use these elements in different portions of your application and transition between them.
      source: http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/screens_support.html

      I agree with your second point: what Andy Rubin is referring to is that he doesn’t feel the need for an app specific to the tablet , another app for the phone, and an app for the TV. He believes that apps can be distributed in a single binary and work regardless of the medium and that Android makes this very easy to do.

  7. AppleFUDGuest 3 years ago

    Andy is correct. It’s a sad state that so many “journalists” are conditioned to the way apple does things–just because iOS is such a shitty OS that they need the developers to write a separate app for each form factor does not make it the case for every other OS.

    Do I download a different app for my 10″ netbook Vs my 32″ desktop? NO! The software scales properly.

    It shouldn’t be any different going from phone to desktop–the OS & app should scale properly and use the screen real estate accordingly and this is precisely what Android has been trying to accomplish instead of taking the iOS shortcut, making an app run the size of a phone on a tablet.

    so sick of ignorant “journalists” spewing apple’s FUD everywhere.

    • GlenGuest 3 years ago

      I see you are the one spreading FUD. the iOS appstore has universal apps and games and this has become the norm now for most apps. They scale up according to device and scale up well. Prime examples include games like Infinity blade, Photo editing apps and RSS readers who just dont get magnified on the increased iPad real estate.

      Maybe ICS will help devs start developing universal apps too. So stop being uninformed

    • If you think I’m suggesting they need to write separate apps for tablets than you really missed what I was saying.

      I agree that universal apps make a great deal of sense and there will no doubt come a time in the not so distant future when everything is just written that way, but we aren’t there yet. For now if you are searching for apps in the Market you often have no idea whether you are downloading something that is going to work well on your tablet or not. It makes for a frustrating user experience and that’s not helping app developers or tablet manufacturers.

  8. PhilGuest 3 years ago

    I’ve said all along that these tablet app counts are pure BS. From the get go Google made it clear that they didn’t want separate apps. So I don’t understand why everybody is acting shocked at Rubin’s statement. They released API’s so that apps can adjust to work on any size screen. Theres no way to count these apps that I know of. Yet iFans and iFan bloggers insist on trying to judge Android by Apple’s ass backwards paradigm of “tablet specific” apps. And the fanboys take that talking point and run with it. Try to tell them about fragments and it goes right over their heads. Since all they know is the iPad they swear you are talking about scaling.

    What I don’t understand is why the Android blogging community has not stepped up long ago and set the matter straight. Its as if the Android community ignored Google’s call for single apps as well. Did Google not make this point clear enough? While its not going to be some giant amount I wonder how many tablets sales have been missed for some iFan telling someone that Android only has 100 tablet apps or something like that. And it DOES happen because I’ve seen it before with phones and other devices. In this day and age those talking points actually hit the bottom line.

    Hopefully as devs target ICS some of this mess starts to clear up. Hell hopefully we start seeing some updates to phones in the next 3-6 months so that devs do start targeting ICS. With it being such a change I don’t think OEM’s would want to be left behind.

  9. Didn’t Rubin, or someone else from Google, say a while back that tablet specific content (he might not have mention the word “app”) is really important? He was talking about it all relating to the context the user is in and you want different things from a app for bank errands (he used this example) if you’re out in about with your cellphone or if you’re sitting at home in your couch. I thought this sounded great at the time and I still do.

    That being said, we might not need apps that ONLY run on tablets. But as Sean mentions in the article there’s a difference between just upscaling a cellphone app and an app that actually gives you different content depending on what format you’re currently using. Like the bank errands example. When I’m on my phone I probably just want to check my balance or something like that while at home I might want a full list of all my accounts at the start screen.

    So – no, we don’t need tablet-SPECIFIC apps, but we do need apps still give you something SPECIFIC when used on a tablet. So even though this might be what Rubin thinks as well, I think that he’s not talking about the need for this type of app but the “un-need” off tablet-specific apps is kind of odd and brings attention to the wrong things.

    Also does anyone know what interview I’m talking about? I saw it on Youtube.

    • Why a minus on that one though? Too long? Damn you guys are hard to please.

      • Don’t take it personally. A lot of times it’s the trolls. You’re thoughts are coherent, and you didn’t bash anybody personally; to me this is a good post. Someone may not agree with the the opinion, but others may. Either way this adds to the conversation. Thank you for posting. Don’t let a downvote discourage you.

    • I’m not quite sure as to Rubin’s exact words, but I’m sure he was pro-tablet content. He just doesn’t see the need for Tablet-only apps, or separate apps being created for different form factors.

      Perfect example is ICS itself. On a phone, it’s one thing, but when it’s on a tablet, it morphs into something different to take advantage of the bigger screen. And soon enough, when it’s on a TV, it’ll be something else.

      Code once for all platforms

  10. Tablet optimized apps please… it’s kinda hard to make something that would look great on a 10.1″ screen look and feel the exact same way on something less than half that size.

    That being said, I understand the need to make it easier for developers to have apps available to the largest audience as possible, so having everything on one OS makes sense. But I like the tablet specific/optimized OS and apps!