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Android tablets won’t take off without any killer apps

by Marty Gabel

Android-based tablets including the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab are arguably at least as technologically advanced as the iPad. They all boast great specs, nice hardware, and Android’s ever-improving and user-friendly Honeycomb OS. But there’s still one thing missing: truly killer apps.

Don’t get me wrong, here. If you’re looking for games, there are some exceptional THD titles for NVIDIA Tegra-powered tablets like Guerrilla Bob THD, Bang Bang Racing THD and Samurai II: Vengeance THD, all resplendent with colorful graphics and smooth gameplay. As time goes on and game developers embrace Android devices, the gaming experience should only get better.

But what about the apps?

Apple does a better job marketing the tablet app experience

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad 2 back in March, it was noticeable that he spent about 10 percent of the time talking-up the specs of the new tablet, and the other 90 percent of the presentation covering the apps. The apps were simply a refresh of iMovie and a new iteration of the already-popular Garageband. But, the key thing was seeing them used in a unique way for tablet users that made them seem fresh and exciting again.

Can the same thing really be said about Android apps? Again, we’ve got some very nice apps for sure. They look good, offer great functionality ahead of their smartphone counterparts, but there’s nothing really novel... yet.

The CNN tablet app is pretty, as is the one from CNBC. The Pulse News app is Honeycomb-ready and very functional, benefiting from more screen real estate than its smartphone counterpart.

There’s also some nice Twitter and Facebook apps out there to take advantage of the big-screen experience. They offer multiple panes, a bit like Tweetdeck has been doing for a while, but they’re not really pushing the envelope. Flipboard, a unique take on melding social networks and news, does offer some real innovation on the iPad. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing this app on Android devices some time soon.

Google’s body of work

Google seems to be stepping in the right direction, however. Google Earth is a better experience on an Android tablet since its latest update, offering photo-realistic 3D building views that had previously only been accessible with the desktop version. Google Body, an interactive 3D anatomy app, also shows some great potential for what could be done with education apps in the future.

A lot of the time, however, such tablet apps are merely incremental improvements to their smartphone relatives, not game changers. It’s up to developers to create killer apps, and Android isn’t the only one at fault here: the iPad, too, suffers from a lot of half-assed tablet conversions that don’t really offer much. Developers continue to think about converting a smartphone or PC experience onto a tablet, instead of designing uniquely for the tablet itself. It’ll take some time, but once tablets become less ‘foreign’ and a standard experience that everyone can enjoy (rather like smartphones now) I think that the innovation will arrive.

Trouble is, even with all the brains at Google and all the pushing of Honeycomb-based tablets upon us, we’re still not that close to seeing truly innovative Android tablet apps yet. It’ll happen for sure, but Google could get left behind in the tablet wars if it doesn’t start to convince us that it’s the apps themselves that make an Android tablet truly worth purchasing, not just some fancy hardware specs and a good-looking OS.