Is Amazon the key to driving Android tablet app development?
It's no secret that there are more applications optimized for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad than tablets running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) rival Android mobile operating system, but the size of the disparity between the two platforms may surprise you. Thirty percent of the top free and paid iPad apps in Apple's App Store are absent from Google Play, according to recent data from research firm Canalys. Eight percent of the top iOS apps are available via Google Play but aren't optimized for Android tablets, and 52 percent of hit iOS apps are only somewhat optimized for Android tablet use.
"To take the Play ecosystem to the next level, Google needs more than just a large addressable base of devices," said Canalys senior analyst Tim Shepherd. "App developers need to see clear potential to build robust and sustainable business models around apps built for the platform, so increasing monetization potential must be a priority. And for tablet apps in particular, Google should go further with changes to the Play store to ensure more rigorously managed, high-quality, optimized experiences are highlighted, to the benefit of consumers, and to reward those developers who invest the time and resources in building them with improved discoverability."
Google Play isn't the only game in town, however. Android developers may also sell applications via Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Appstore for Android. In a blog post published Wednesday, Amazon technical evangelist Mike Hines states that the online retailer recently tested 1,600 Amazon Appstore tablet app submissions and discovered that more than 75 percent "just work" on its Android-powered Kindle Fire tablet, with no additional development effort required. A chart comparing the assets in a Google Play submission and how they transfer to Amazon Appstore substantiates Hines' statement: Both storefronts leverage the same APK, store text assets and graphic assets, with no new assets required.
For developers wondering why all existing Android APKs submitted to Amazon Appstore don't translate to the Kindle Fire, Hines explains that in most cases, app functionality doesn't match the product description. Some apps for phones lose state or data when receiving a phone call or text message; in other cases, icons submitted to the developer portal don't match icons included in the app. App stability, failure to launch and security are also commonplace problems.
Canalys argues that Google Play isn't doing enough to stimulate Android tablet app development (and Android software development in general), so can Amazon do the heavy lifting? Marketing tablet apps through two storefronts while essentially writing code for only one store is an inherently appealing prospect, obviously, but Amazon Appstore also offers benefits that Google can't match, like Amazon's signature e-commerce expertise--a far cry from Google Play's longstanding discovery struggles. Amazon Appstore additionally has a history of trumping Google Play on app revenues, and this spring Amazon expanded its premium app sales to the booming Chinese market, where Google Play's efforts remain limited to free apps.
With worldwide Android tablet shipments now eclipsing iPad, demand for apps and games optimized for those tablets is only going to grow. Savvy developers are going to exploit that opportunity sooner rather than later--and when they do, they may decide that selling in two app stores is better than one.--Jason