Google may limit Android Market access for tablets - Mobile World Live

Google may limit Android Market access for tablets

13 SEP 2010

Google may not allow makers of tablet computers powered by the Android operating system to include Android Market support on all devices, with Hugo Barra, the company’s mobile product management director, arguing that “we have to make sure that every device meets the criteria for a good experience for Android Market.” The main issue is that the raft of products being planned by vendors have many different form factors and features: screen sizes and resolutions vary, and some devices will include hardware capabilities that others do not. This creates the danger of a poor user experience, if customers buy products that are not suited to the device that they own.

The difference in screen size and multitouch capabilities has already been identified as a key developer difference between Apple’s iPad and iPhone devices. However, at least here developers are working with a limited range of products from one vendor; in contrast, Android is either already or is set to power devices from a range of manufactures, from handhelds slightly larger than a smartphone to fully-fledged tablet computers. With such a diverse range on offer, there is an increased likelihood that apps will be unsuitable for all terminals, leading to the need to “port” software to support the specific features of products.

While the openness of Android when compared to Apple’s more tightly controlled ecosystem has been widely praised, fragmentation is the issue which is causing the biggest concern among the developer community.  Even within the smartphone sector, devices are shipping using different versions of the Android platform, and vendors and operators have created a number of custom extensions to the platform, increasing the potential that applications will not run on devices across-the-board.

Specifically, Google’s Barra said that Android 2.2 (a.k.a. ‘Froyo’) is not optimised for use on tablets, adding: “The way Android Market works is it’s not going to be available on devices that don’t allow applications to run correctly. If you want Android Market on that platform, the apps just wouldn’t run; [Froyo] is just not designed for that form factor.” Samsung’s high-profile GalaxyTab runs Android 2.2, although reports suggest it will support Android Market, whilst Toshiba’s new Folio 100 tablet will launch with its own app store (App Place, part of the marketplace of Toshiba Place) in an effort to overcome the issue.

A Reuters report notes that Google’s Barra stopped just short of saying that forthcoming 3.0 and 3.5 versions of Android, also known as Gingerbread and Honeycomb, would be optimised for tablets, with the news agency adding that “presumably there will either be a tablet version or tablet section of the Android Market at that time.”

Meanwhile this fragmentation is only likely to get worse. In addition to smartphones and tablets, Google has announced plans to extend Android Market for TV applications, with Android set to become an enabling platform for set-top boxes. Here, the user interface will be completely different, with televisions having displays of more than 40 inches compared to the 4 inches of smartphones, and navigation via remote controls, rather than touchscreen. While the core enabling technology may be the same, products will need to be substantially different to deliver an acceptable user experience, with the main commonality being the Android brand.

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