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Handheld Devices

Report: Android tablet app availability still trailing iPad

Android tablets may have come a long way over the last couple of years, but the app selection still can't compare to Apple's iPad, according to a new report.

To compare the two platforms, research firm Canalys made a list of the top 50 paid and free iPad apps in the U.S. version of Apple's iOS App Store, based on aggregated daily rankings in the first half of this year. The firm then looked at how many of those apps are available for Android, along with how many are optimized for larger displays.

Canalys found that 30 percent of these top iPad apps were not available on Android. Another 18 percent were available, but not optimized for tablets. In other words, a little more than half of the most popular iPad apps are available as proper tablet apps for Android devices.

In fairness to Android, six of those unavailable apps--iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers--come directly from Apple. In some cases, Android users can even find alternatives that look great on their tablets: OfficeSuite, QuickOffice, Kingsoft Office, and Google Drive are all capable document editors that obviate the need for Apple's mobile iWork suite. For photo editing, apps like Aviary and Photoshop Touch fill the void. Unfortunately, Android doesn't offer anything for music creation on the same level as GarageBand, and there's a shortage of good movie editing apps for tablets. (I know this because I've done my own head-to-head app comparisons.)

It doesn't take much time with an Android tablet to notice the other cracks in Google's catalog. Twitter and Facebook both look ugly in Android form, especially on larger tablets where timeline updates stretch unnaturally across the screen. On the iPad, both apps make use of the larger screen with sidebars. ESPN ScoreCenter is another example of a poorly optimized app; unlike the iPad version, the Android app doesn't let you use it in landscape mode and doesn't make use of sidebars.

The only consolation is that these stretched out apps don't look as bad on smaller tablets like the Nexus 7. Given that smaller screens account for the vast majority of Android tablet sales, most users won't feel the burn as much as users of Google's Nexus 10 or other large tablets.

But if Android is going to keep up with the iPad, its apps will need to look good on all screen sizes. It helps that the Google Play Store now promotes tablet-optimized apps, with a permanent "Tablet 101" spotlight and a "Designed for Tablets" toggle in every section of the store. Even so, Canalys' report does a fine job of summing up the current state of iPad vs. Android apps.

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