Many other developers agree. Kayak's Bill O'Donnell says, "I think the Android market could stand a lot of improvements in a lot of ways. Its main problem is that it's one market for the whole world." For example, if you take a look at the Top Free apps in Transportation, you will note that most of the top apps are bus schedules/maps for Korea, the Czech Republic, and other international locales where Android is popular. While those apps may certainly be useful if you live in one of those parts of the world, it's doubtful that's what someone in St. Louis is looking for. Similarly, it's doubtful that someone using a Honeycomb tablet is searching for an app that isn't optimized for it and won't look good.
Waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich?
Many pundits have speculated that perhaps the holdup is in anticipation of Ice Cream Sandwich, which will theoretically merge Android's phone and tablet platforms, helping to end fragmentation, and which is due to arrive this fall. Why develop for one version of Android that will soon be enveloped by another?
To put it simply, none of the developers we spoke with indicated that the impending arrival of Ice Cream Sandwich is a factor. No one, it would seem, expects developing for Ice Cream Sandwich to be all that different from developing for Honeycomb. If it's going to be running on a tablet-sized screen, graphics will need to be scaled up, and the app will likely have to be redesigned for the new screen size. This is simply the difference between tablets and phones, not between Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich.
Demand, Demand, Demand
All six of the developers we spoke with said, in no uncertain terms, that the reason apps have been slow to come to Honeycomb is that demand just doesn't exist for Honeycomb yet. And if there's no demand, there's no revenue--and no reason to be making apps yet.
Take the example of Dictionary.com, which has enjoyed roughly 10 million Android smartphone downloads, plus 2 million downloads for the iPad. Shravan Goli, the company's president, notes, "For the iPad, it's very obvious that it's caught on and that they are the leaders in the tablet market, so it makes sense for us to be building there." The company says it has seen measurable results in terms of engagement and monetization on the iPad. "We're hoping for Android tablets to catch on, and we have the ability to play in the market as it develops, but we're waiting to invest until we see how the chips are going to fall."
This sentiment was echoed all around. Updating an app for a new screen size (unless it's a simple issue of scaling, as with the games mentioned above) requires a significant investment in time, energy, money, and focus on the part of a company. That, in turn, requires its developers to spread their resources thinner. This represents a risk, so before developers take that risk, they want a reasonable assurance of a return on their investment (or ROI). With over twenty-five million devices sold, the Apple iPad has already created a huge app market, and that means the chances of seeing that ROI are high. Exact figures for the number of Honeycomb devices sold are unknown, but it's almost certain that less than 1 million total have sold so far. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer, which is by far the best-selling Honeycomb tablet, has sold only an estimated 400,000 to date.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.