Android Tablet Apps Get Their Turn In The Google Spotlight

Google is about to give tablet apps a big visibility boost in its Android Google Play app store. Starting November 21, Android tablet users who open the Google Play Store will by default first see apps designated “Designed for tablets.”

Google said back in May that it planned to highlight tablets apps in the Google Play store, but until now it hasn't done much on that front. With the new change, any Android tablet user will first see tablet-specific apps in the Top Grossing, Top New Paid, Top New Free and Trending sections of Google Play.

First, Developers Must Toe Google's Line

To be included in the new section of Google Play, developers will need to follow Google’s optimization tips for Android tablet development. Android developers won't simply be able to repurpose a smartphone app and call it a tablet app. Google Play will market apps that aren't designed for tablets as “Designed for phones.”

Developers can see if their apps meet Google’s tablet standards by checking the “Optimization Tips” section in the Google Play Developer Console. At a minimum, compliant apps must target Android versions that support tablets (Android 3.0 Honeycomb and up), use the “Large” and “XLarge” settings in Google’s screen targeting formats and include at least two screen shots of their apps running on 7-inch and 10-inch tablets.

Google also has a tablet app quality checklist with 12 important aspects to note when building for tablets. Developers should be able to target the appropriate hardware and Android versions for their tablet apps, optimize for screen size and the extra space on a tablet, use the appropriately sized icons for tablets, adjust touch targets and use the appropriate tablet grids for widgets and icons and be a fully functional tablet app (as opposed to a crippled version of the smartphone app).

Google has taken a lot of interest in increasing the quality of Android apps over the last year. To fight the perception—sometimes right, sometimes wrong—that Android apps are inferior to iOS apps, it released a series of guidelines and developer techniques to improve the appearance and performance of Android apps. In effect, Google is now offering the "Designed for tablets" promotion as a carrot to help enforce its tablet guidelines.

70 Million Android Tablets And Counting

Google says that it has activated 70 million Android tablets and that one out of every two tablets purchased these days run Android. The timing of the “Designed for tablets” launch is interesting, in that it's scheduled exactly a week before Thanksgiving and Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping season. We may also see Google’s latest update of Android—version 4.4 KitKat—announced in the same general timeframe, perhaps along with two or three new devices in its Nexus line of gadgets (a smartphone, a 7-inch and a 10-inch tablet).

The message to consumers will be that Android tablet apps are just as good (and plentiful) as apps made for Apple’s iPad. Apple’s iOS App Store has about 900,000 apps currently with about 375,000 designed specifically for the iPad. In comparison, Google’s tablet app ecosystem has looked fairly paltry—one reasons users often cite for picking an iPad or iPad Mini over an Android tablet. Microsoft says that Windows 8 has about 150,000 apps in its store.