Four Cores Won’t Fix Android Tablet App Gap

The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime is the first of what will likely be many Android tablets that sport Nvidia’s new Tegra 3 quad-core processor. This chip has a ton of power under the hood, and each core has the ability to run at 1.3-GHz. In our testing, this beast of a slate outperformed its dual-core predecessor by a wide margin in most benchmarks. There’s just one problem. Users don’t care.

What tablet buyers do care about is what they can do with all this extra power. And the answer so far is…not very much.

Based on our Transformer Prime tests and some early reviews, the lag that has dogged Android Honeycomb tablets isn’t as bad as it once was. But it’s still there. The software just doesn’t feel as fluid as iOS. Worse, the Android Market still stocks a sad number of tablet-optimized apps versus Apple’s App Store.

If you go to the Android Market right now, you’ll see 188 apps listed in the Featured Tablet section. If you search, you’ll find there are at least 5,000 apps available in the Market that support Android 3.0 or higher, but most Android tablet owners wouldn’t know how to find them. The iPad has more than 140,000 apps that were designed for Apple’s tablet.

So what about quality? The Android Market is finally starting to stock some apps optimized for bigger screens, but there are still plenty of them that are just stretched-out smartphone apps. In the good pile, you have options such as the news reader Pulse, which has an attractive tile-style interface. The recently revamped Netflix app is another big-screen winner, with large box art you can easily swipe through beneath your recently played options. In fact, right now, Netflix looks better on Android than it does on iOS, which uses a lot of wasted white space. The iPad update is coming soon.


The game selection on Android tablets has also improved. Titles such as Shadowgun and Riptide are immersive and are chock-full of even more eye candy when played with on a Tegra 3 tablet.

But then there are Android apps—lots and lots of them—that just don’t translate well to the bigger screen. Take Pandora. On the iPad version, there’s an elegant two-column layout that displays your stations on the left side and the music that’s currently playing in the middle. On the Android app, your list of stations is on a different screen. Facebook created a dynamic iPad app with a slide-out panel for quickly jumping to your Favorites and apps. The Android version is just the phone app, which looks crude on an HD display. It’s the same deal with the Twitter app.

Pandora for Android

Pandora for iPad

It’s not necessarily Google’s fault that these and other developers are dragging their heels. Or is it? Back in October, Android head Andy Rubin told a crowd at the AsiaD show that “I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet.” Rubin was referring to the fact that Android 4.0, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, will unify Google’s mobile operating systems, so making the distinction between phones and tablets for developers might be counterproductive.

I beg to differ.

Just because a smartphone has an HD display, that doesn’t mean the user experience should be the same on a handset as it is on a slate. It will be critical for Google to push developers toward making their tablet apps truly optimized for tablets. Heck, pull a Microsoft and pay them if you have to.

Do I blame developers for taking their sweet time? Not necessarily. According to the market research company NPD, HP actually beat out Samsung to be the No. 1 maker of tablets outside of the iPad through October. Granted, a lot of the credit goes to HP’s $99 TouchPad fire sale, but the bottom line is that consumers just haven’t been that excited about Android slates.

Ironically, Amazon’s smaller Android Appstore could be the one to help Google close the app gap with iOS. Given that millions of customers will supposedly snap up the Kindle Fire between now and the end of the year, I expect a lot more developers to pay attention to Android in general. But for now, stretched phone apps look fine on that tablet’s 7-inch 1024 x 600 screen. It will likely take Amazon debuting its own rumored quad-core HD tablet to force developers to deliver experiences tailor-made for bigger and higher-res screens.

So does quad-core matter? Of course. But shoppers won’t bite until Google and its partners stock the Android Market with at least quadruple the number of compelling tablet apps.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Travis Says:

    Who needs 100,000 iOS apps? Android has what we need, what we want even.

  2. larry martin Says:

    Loved your article/review. You were fair and balanced in praise & constructive criticism. Android defefinitley is behind power curve on tablet apps. However, w/5000 + Tablet apps available plus ICS, a.k.a. Android 4.0 out, plus Amazon & Barnes & Nobel’s tablets doing well, I believe u will see the # of tablets apps increase fairly quickly w/nxt 3 months. Also, the ICS Source Code was made available recently. That too will help.

    Finally, at one point, does ANYBODY have enough apps. Sure, Apple’s 140K apps is AMAZING, but how many apps does a person REALLY need, want, & use. There has to be a point of diminishing returns when it comes to that question. I wonder if anyone has done a study to find the average, the mean, the bell curve # of apps a person has & uses.

  3. Paul S. Says:

    Sounds like January 2009 all over again…
    At that time, Android was 4 months old and Everyone ( including you ) were already predicting Android’s demise. 2 1/2 years later in July 2011, Android took the Crown for Most Apps for Smartphones. Now , 8 months after the introduction of Honeycomb (and just less than 2 months after the unveiling of ICS, Android 4.0), Everyone is saying the Exact Same Thing : Android Tablets are Doomed because of Lack of Apps.
    My Thought : I’ll see you in 1 year ! btw…Android Tablets are becoming de rigueur in Enterprise Use both in the U.S. AND worldwide .. see Articles from Yesterday.

  4. Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    Good point Paul. But I think it’s a mistake to assume Android will repeat its success in tablet space. I think the apps could get there, but phone apps will only do for so long.

  5. D Mason Says:

    I totally agree with this article. I like Android,but the user experience would be tremendous if this was the case. Google needs to get there act together on this issue. And Andy Rubin who made that statement at Google is an idiot for stating that. More consumers would also purchase more Android tablets if this was the case. The problem is that Android is all over the place with there OS. They need one universal OS which would make developers more willing optimize apps for the OS. ICS should be that OS,this would really set the tone in the tablet war.

  6. G Says:

    FYI, there are over 600K application for Android (including tablets). 385K available for download. Increasing at a rate of 35k a month (this does not include other stores, like Amazon, Verizon, etc).

    Source androlib stats.

    In three months there will be more Android apps than all IOS apps.

    So your base comment is a non issue.

    And shows your lack of knowledge of the Android ecosystem.

  7. Rhys.H Says:

    Paul, I’m not so sure about enterprise…

    Recently, Apple’s iPhone’s had taken over Blackberry as the device for enterprise.

    I personally think it’s about quality not quantity. There could be a million apps on the Android marketplace, and only a hundred thousand on the Appstore – but if most of the million apps have poor performance, lack use or don’t have a target market, then they are just wasting space.

    What I like about Apple is that they check every app that is put onto the store to ensure quality, whereas Google don’t (for obvious reasons). Apple provide the product, and they provide the service – this may mean less choice; but it generally means better value and quality.

    It’s a shame because I love the ASUS Transformer Prime concept, and the stock Android Honeycomb (& ICS) interface, so if they could only couple the Prim with iOS’s performance and Appstore then I would be typing in the URL of BestBuy now!

  8. Todd Says:

    I never understand the repeated (apologist usually) argument that users only use a handful of apps, therefore having an app market with only 5000 apps is not a big issue compared to 140k apps for the iPad.

    That’s like saying most people only ever choose maybe 3 types of ice cream so why would an ice cream parlor need more than 3 choices? Sounds pretty ignorant doesn’t it?!

    Choice in quality apps matters. When markets are within 20-30% the same size not a big issue, but when it is an order of magnitude different in choice, it matters. Maybe not to you, but for many people it does and will.


  9. Francis York Says:

    Tsk, tsk, tsk… pathetic. Again withl the Apple propapaganda, i will never come to this site again, if i wanted to read guerrilla marketing and advertorials from Apple i’d go to Gizmodo. Scumbags!.

  10. Android Addict Says:

    Are we really still playing ‘I have more apps than you’ game? It doesn’t matter how many apps are present, it is not quantity that matters, only having the major ones matters anymore.

    Android tablets will dominate, just as the phones are dominating today. I love my Asus Transformer and I NEVER experience lag. Android gives you options, a multitude of price points and form factors… something Apple will never provide.

  11. Scott Helm Says:

    You can’t compare a $99 tablet to a $500 tablet and then congratulate the one that sold quick because of price. How in the world you would have the gall to bring up HP when their app store was void of anything is beyond belief! The Palm/HP Pre, while having a nice OS never made it because of lack of apps. If you are suggesting the Prime suffers from the same problems as the TouchPad you may have a point. I have ordered a Prime but took back a Zoom because of the lack of programs in the Android Market. I am hoping/praying with the release of ICS my new Prime will be as enjoyable as my iPad.

  12. neo Says:

    hey, the guy had to write something, else they might fire him

  13. symbolset Says:

    Acidic and completely wrong. I have the original Transformer at home and iPad 1 & 2 at work. I use the original Epic phone. iPads are nice gear and easy to recommend. But if they don’t fit your needs, they just don’t.

    Unlike iOS, Android was designed from the beginning to scale well to larger screens. This is the bugaboo that’s delaying the iPad 3 and iPhone 5: iOS wasn’t and the extant apps with the rumored 2x displays didn’t meet Steve Jobs’ exacting quality standards because they were jaggy, so an intermediate iOS was required to scale extant apps in a visually acceptable way and prevented launch before Christmas. Almost every Android app I’ve tried is even more awesome on the Transformer’s large screen. The few that don’t almost all work, but you can tell they’re designed for a phone’s puny screen. Mostly these were written for Android 1.5 or before, and that was long before the quantum leap in apps that the Android marketplace saw, so they’re quite rare. Generally almost all Android apps look lovely on the larger screen without special “HD” apps.

    Speaking of which, the Web – including this site – looks a lot more normal on the Transformer’s 1280 widescreen than on the iPad’s 1024 wide screen. This is important: the widescreen makes HD movies look a lot better on the Transformer too. It’s pretty telling that the new Netflix User Interface came to Android first considering that Reed Hastings – CEO and founder of Netflix – sits on the board of Microsoft, which considers Android the devil himself.

    And then there’s ports like HDMI and microSDHC, the docking keyboard with extended battery and more ports like SD and USB. And quad-core CPU and 12-core graphics. It’s not even fair. And then there’s the whole “flash” thing. I’m sure it’s OK with you that your hardware vendor decides you don’t need flash. I’m not OK with my hardware vendor deciding software for me in any way whatsoever.

    Look. I like the iPads. They’re great. The iPad 3 should correct most of the shortfalls sometime in June. But today there’s one boss in the quality game, and right now Transformer Prime is boss. It’s going to move a lot of units. iPad is going to move a lot more units, but it’s first mover and deserves its advantage. Apple’s going to have to keep stepping up their game at an awesome pace to maintain their lead – and I believe they can.

    Competition is great for all of us.

  14. Mike Paterson Says:

    I notice you only pick Apps that are in favour of the iHad.
    So, I’ll just keep it plain and simple…… BANG! I’ve just stopped buying the Magazine.

  15. Jim White Says:

    There are thousands of Android apps out there and more than enough for the average user. My Freedom 10 tablet hits all the marks, has lots of I/O options and performs well… and is half the price of all the “name” android tablets. I think Apple sees the coming Tsunami….

  16. Eric Says:

    I think android app dev’s find themselves in a better spot to support tablets with the android fracgments API (which has been backported to earlier versions of android), you can simply create different layouts – one for phone and one for tablet – without any major mods to your existing app.

    So anyone with existing apps just needs to add tablet friendly layouts and a little code and Viola. You get apps that work on both perfectly.

    Plus, as an android tablet owner, I have found that many apps, especially games, look great on tablets even without a dedicated tablet app. I think android gets a bad rap on the whole tablet app business.

    If android devs just start using the fragments API, this problem gets solved in a hurry.

  17. Eric Says:

    On a second note, the author makes the assertion that you should have two seperate apps (for tablet and phone) as opposed to performing both tasks in one.

    As a software engineer (and android developer), I am completely blown away by android 4.0 unified app approach. There’s absolutely no reason why a Dev should write two separate apps with the same exact functionality. Especially in 2011.

    Android has really raised the bar on the technical approach for app development, and that will pay dividends sooner rather than later. Within 6 Months, all the apps you mentioned will have updated tablet friendly ui’s added to their existing apps. Then this argument becomes moot. Heck, this new API has only been available for a month now. Just wait. I will be right.

  18. Jason Says:

    I’ve heard this excuse so many times. If the only thing Apple has over Android now is the number of apps available, then the future is bright for Android. First off, Android has TONS of free apps. Secondly, how many apps do the average users actually use daily? I promise you its not around 500,000 so who cares about the number of apps.

    Lastly, I’ve never had a problem finding an app for Android that does exactly what I needed. I have several great office programs, the Adobe suite of apps which are only for android right now, remote desktop apps, tons of games, etc etc etc.

    I’ve said this once before but its obvious Apple is getting nervous about Android tablets the way they are suing and tryng to stop the sales of them all over the globe. Android tablets are selling better in Britian and India right now and other countries will soon follow. There are so many more useable features in Android tablets that the iPad simple doesn’t have. Mainly the sd card, HDMI, USB, and multitasking.

    So yeah, I’ve just rendered this article useless. Have a nice day.

    Written on the best Tablet ever……the Android Transformer.

  19. k4ever Says:

    Excellent article. I own an HP TouchPad. After all the drama with HP possibly dumping webOS, and a lack of apps like NetFlix, I installed Android on the TouchPad. I’ve been searching for almost 3 days for those 5000+ Android tablet apps. I found 4 good ones so far. Google hasn’t made my search easy. I switched back to webOS for now. At least the 1000 tablet apps for webOS are easy to find and well made. If Google doesn’t fix the tablet app situation soon, the iPad will continue to dominate. Think of it like this, if I paid $500 for a tablet I expect to get my money’s worth by getting a $500 dollar experience out of it.

  20. UCLA 15 Says:

    While I like Android, I am by no means a fanboy and will admit that Android tablets don’t have as rosy an app picture as the Apple guys got going. That said, I think that will significantly change in the coming months.

    For one, the popularity of Android tablets is going to increase tremendously. The reason for this is that the recent crop of Android tabs is the first to be considered a true competitor to the iPad. The original Eee Pad Transformer was a success, and the Transformer Prime is going to be an absolute runaway success. Preorders for it are insane, and I’m in fact worried that I won’t be able to get one before Christmas. People everywhere are stoked for this device alone, and since it essentially is going to set the pace for the next generation of Android tablets as the first of the quad-core generation, that is a good sign for this next gen of Androids.

    Secondly, ICS will boost demand for apps a great deal. Each new version of Android bumps up the popularity of the system as a whole, not only because each version gets better but also because people like to ride the tech wave of whatever is newest. The fact that the TF Prime’s release is coinciding with the release of the newest version of the OS will only add to its popularity.

    The biggest reason by far is still the increase in tablet market share I predict Android will have in upcoming months. There are people like me who are already Android users (HTC Sensation) but who have never been impressed by the tablets who finally ARE impressed by the tablets in what we see in the TF Prime and in ICS. There are iPad users who are finally looking at an Android tab and saying “wow, even though my preference is for Apple, that really does look like a great tablet”. There are people who aren’t in either camp and who don’t have tablets yet that just plain are impressed by the TF Prime’s specs and want to jump in on this ship.

    Want proof that the Android tablet age has finally hit? Go try to preorder a TF Prime. Good luck, way too many people want one.

  21. Jerry C Says:

    “Four Cores Won’t Fix Android Tablet App Gap”
    Because 4 cores sometimes fix app gap? Seriously this article is trash.

  22. Johan Says:

    you are a bit wrong, you should write apps for ICS for both at the same time, it should be the same app on the Phone or Tablet. But the big difference is the layout, on a tablet you show just more info,

    For example an email app, on a phone you see the list of emails and when you click on it you get in another screen the contents of that email. But on a tablet you just display those 2 fragments at the same time, on the right and left…

  23. Rick Swanson Says:

    I agree that the story was fairly written, maybe, but who needs 140,000 apps. the thing that always fails to be mentioned in the mine is bigger than yours articles is the fact that 139,000 of those apps are useless, or copies of identical apps. being someone who needs to be able to integrate both tablets with a network, I will say android makes apple look like what it is, an overpriced toy. Sure apple has ten thousand ways to watch cnn, and you can get all the media you want, as long as it’s from Itunes, but do you really want to? I can view anything I want, listen to anything I want, and connect to any network I want with my droids. I cant say the same for IOS. Another gap closer is HTML5. Many developers are writing in html5 to make their apps agnostic, last time I checked you could run whatever browser you wanted on your ipad as long as it was opera. Firefox is native to android now, as well as chrome, so broweser extensibilty is limitless. At the end of the day it doesnt matter, one is always only going to be one christmas better than the other, so that they can continue to sell. This year just happens to belong to android.

    That’s just my two cents.

  24. Kinton Says:

    Stupid article…. the senseless Apple cheerleading on this website had already reduced my visits here to less than two a week (down from daily).

    Now the site is becoming something of pure amusement.

    Hardcore Apple fans are some of the most simple-minded tech users around (going into 2012) as there’s nothing in Apple’s arsenal that can fix “that” gap. And absolutely what on Earth does four cores have to do with anything???

    Is the plague of iSheep stupidity spreading?

    laptopmag ….has gone completely downhill.

  25. defff Says:

    I’m an android developer myself with a bone to pick (about to switch to Apple). If Google wants developers to try harder, they have to start screening their apps, and stop promoting free apps. There’s no point in spending weeks developing an app, then give it away free. That’s a great situation for Google, but its kind of screwing developers. Not to mention that when you release an app, it is put into the “just released” section where it is surrounded by spammy, worthless, BS spyware apps. And that’s as good of exposure as you’re going to get, unless you make it into the top 100 (of 300,000). The spam destroys trust in the market, and with so many worthless apps out there, people are reluctant to pay for something on the Android Market. So I’m leaving, and I’ll be back when Google cleans up its act.

  26. bigbrovar Says:

    I am generally a free and open source guy. I have tanned linux exclusively for close to 6 years now on my laptop and desktop and I work as a linux system administrator for my day job. Before android I was using the n900 and the n810 before that. The license (whether open or close) as always informed my choice of a particular technology and this is why I use android. However I am not dogmatic or blind to the short coming of the technology is used. Rather I believe such short coming should be highlighted so the it could easily be fixed. It is in this Vian that I feel this article hits the nail on the head regarding the issues facing android on tablets. As a owner of the Samsung galaxy tab myself I don’t see any of the point made in this article as out of line. It perfectly reflects the true state of android on tablets anyone who feels this article is spreading fud either doesn’t own an Android tablet or is living in denial.

    The application ecosystem on android for Android tablet is far from ideal. Many applications is use on my phone don’t have tablet edition and using them on my tab is just a horrid experience (lots of unused white spaces and tiny text that hot my eyes) not even Google’s own Google + app has tablet optimization not to talk of twitter or the facebook app. Beside gtalk app which only supports Google talk. IM + is the only other IM application that has tablet support and it doesn’t work since the last update. Although Google is not responsible for the lack of android tablet apps. I can not help but get the feeling Google is not doing enough to push app developers to update their apps to android tablets. Heck nothing was said about tablets when using email cream sandwich was announced.. All the demonstration we saw were on phone and we are yet to see how ics performs on a tablet close to 2 month after the os that was to rule both TABLET and phone was released.

    On the performance level honeycomb just sucks. My galaxy s2 runs circle round my galaxy tab performance wise. Even scrolling through the home screen is laggy. Part of this is said to be tegra2 but even then it shouldn’t be that bad. I can’t even compare the ipad with my galaxy tab ordinary screen rotation laggs so much it hurts the eyes. The only thing still keeping me on this tablets is not the performance but cus am a stubborn open source person who would rather use a open source software than proprietary even if the latter is better. Still am not blind to the short coming of what I use shorting coming which is highlighted by this post. The problem of honeycomb and android tablets generally can’t be solved by throwing cpus at it.

  27. Scott Deagan Says:

    @bigbrovar – brilliant post, thanks for sharing! I fully agree with you on everything except:

    “…Although Google is not responsible for the lack of android tablet apps…”.

    I point the finger firmly at Google on this one. They have released a product that feels ‘second class’ and ‘alpha’. Google are stubborn as mules and simply won’t (or can’t) deal with the lag issue. You can have all the features in the world, but lag and choppiness results in a poor user experience, hence users choose other platforms (hence less demand on Android, and less incentive for developers to spend time and resources developing for Android).

    The issue was reported to Google in issue 6914:

    but was quickly closed by Romain Guy (post 197).

    It is a hot topic in Google+ at discussions at the moment:

    Here is a YouTube video that clearly demonstrates Google are just sitting back and hoping that “bigger better faster CPUs with more cores” will solve the problem for them:

    The result is so obvious, but Google’s marketing muscle distorts the true facts and covers up the issue:

    Microsoft realized what has to be done, and tackled it head on instead of making up excuses:

    Intel conducted a study (to verify what’s so darn obvious) and concluded that the two major ingredients for a successful tablet are responsiveness (15ms vs. Android’s 150ms+), and smoothness (consistent 60fps):

    There are also several videos on YouTube demonstrating the lag issue:

    My point is user experience really is king. Google need to do what Microsoft did and tackle this problem head on instead of skirting around it and making excuses. So yeah, to re-iterate: I point the finger firmly at Google for the lack of apps on the Android platform (quality apps, not those ‘Sexy Chinese Girls’ type puzzle apps of which there are hundreds released every day). The user-experience sucks, sales are suffering because of it, many companies are even dropping Android tablets (because they’re piling up in the warehouses).

  28. Matt Says:

    I just bought both the Ipad 2 and the Asus Transformer Prime. Although the Prime is running a quad-core processor and 1gig of ram and a higher rez screen, I was shocked to see the Ipad2 outperform the Prime in some aspects. As an example: I loaded up Netflix on both. The Ipad2 had flawless, fluid scrolling of the movies whereas the Prime’s scrolling was laggy and chunky. That surprised me alot. Similarly, the actual movie picture was better on the Ipad2 screen, blacks were blacker, images were unmistakably crisper. I don’t really understand this.

    Also, I attend college, and my Ipad, using Safari, logs into my main school site without a hitch (ie no issues interacting with the text-boxes used to insert username & password). The prime (and other android tablets i’ve tried), have an excruciating time trying to access the text-boxes in order to input username and password. This baffles me, as I”ve tried 3 different browsers with no luck. Once the Primes keyboard is attached it becomes easier, but still not as problem-free as the Ipad. This practically makes the android os a deal-breaker for me, as I want to use this type of a device for school, and I would think that accessing a text-box field would be a basic no-brainer OS ability.

    Also, this is not a performance issue, the on-screen keyboards and intuitive text correction in android bites compared to the ipad/ipod/iphone ones.

    Even with all this though, I still don’t know which to choose lol.

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