Maybe Android tablet apps will be better this year

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There’s a new Android tablet you can go and buy, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. Here’s our review of it, where Jake notes that apps freeze if they’re not in the foreground. Which is a good reminder: Android apps on tablets have never really been very good. They usually end up feeling like stretched-out phone apps.

Things have gotten better in the past couple years, but it’s still a problem. In fact, it has always been a problem. I wonder if anybody ever told Google that it was a problem and it should try to do a better job incentivizing developers to make apps that work better on tablets.

Oh, wait, somebody has:

Motorola Xoom review, 2011:

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There is a ton of promise on the software side for tablets running Honeycomb given the new access to 3D tools and system tweaking that Android allows, but right now it’s a small island in a sea of phone titles — and the majority of those titles do not look right on a 10.1-inch screen at this resolution.

Motorola Xyboard review, 2011:

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Tablet-friendly apps are still few and far between — even the big Twitter web and app overhaul didn’t include any optimizations for larger form factors — and it does seem like everyone’s waiting for ICS to arrive before investing too heavily in redeveloping software.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 review, 2012:

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Ice Cream Sandwich may have improved the core Android tablet experience, but it doesn’t solve the OS’s biggest problem: the glaring lack of good, tablet-optimized apps for Android. The number of tablet-friendly apps is certainly increasing, but it’s still far too low, and most of the apps you download will still be blown-up phone apps

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 review, 2012:

Unfortunately, the list of great and useful tablet apps is otherwise still too small, especially compared to the huge ecosystem of 9.7-inch apps designed and optimized for the iPad. Android has a handful of good apps — games in particular — but you’re still going to be dealing primarily with upscaled phone apps that don’t look very good on a 10-inch screen.

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Nexus 7 review, 2012:

While Google’s new OS and latest app initiatives are very, very good, Android on tablets still suffers from an incredible lack of developer support. Mainstream apps like Twitter have yet to be updated to an appropriate tablet-friendly design, while others, like Pocket, seem to be slightly optimized but not working 100 percent correctly. Some apps simply aren’t optimized for the tablet in any way. The Android 4.1 SDK is now available to developers, so hopefully that’ll be changing soon.

Nexus 10 review, 2012:

The Nexus 10 feels like Google’s open letter to developers. “Look how great Android tablets can be,” the company seems to be saying, “if only you’d make great apps!” […] Apple’s tablet has 250,000-plus other apps that look and work great on a huge, high-res screen, and Android’s ecosystem is leagues behind. […]

Google’s now proven conclusively that it can design great Android hardware, but until developers prove they can design great Android software it’s still hard to recommend the Nexus 10 over an iPad.

Nexus 7 2013 review, 2013:

For three months, Google’s been talking a lot about tablets. At I/O in June and again this week, it talked about the special section in the Play Store designed just for tablet apps, and the new tools for developers. It’s about time, too, because though Android has made huge progress it’s still not up to par with the iOS app selection. More and more apps I use are available on Android, but too many are still just blown-up phone apps, and there are still plenty of games and great apps (Paper and Djay come to mind) simply missing. Google’s catching up, but it started the race way too late.

Nexus 9 review, 2014:

Though many of Google’s own apps are designed to work well on tablets, the vast majority of third-party apps in the Google Play Store still look ridiculous on such a large screen. For all that Google has done to improve the hardware on its Android tablets, the app situation is where Apple still has the farthest lead, and the Nexus 9 and Lollipop do nothing to close that gap.

Pixel C review, 2015:

One big problem is that most of the apps I use on Android tablets still aren’t truly optimized for tablets. Most apps are comprised of wide, wasted expanses of open space that are technically designed for any screen size but actually aren’t utilizing all this screen real estate. That’s problematic with third-party apps, but it’s unforgivable from Google’s own apps. Hangouts, the perennial forgotten child of Mountain View, is a mess on this device.

Nvidia Shield review, 2016:

And, at least until Google sorts out serious multitasking for its OS, eight inches is the right size for an Android tablet. It’s big enough to offer a meaningfully different experience over even a giant phone like the Nexus 6P, but small enough to mitigate the fact that Android still just doesn’t feel all that great on a tablet. You’re still dealing with stretched-out phone apps, but at least on the Shield they’re not blown up to the ridiculous degree that you’d see on something like the Pixel C.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review, 2017:

Even though Android still doesn’t have the tablet app selection that iOS does, I was able to run basically everything I needed to on the Tab S3, including work apps like Trello and Slack to more powerful sketching apps like Adobe Draw. I was able to keep up two apps at once. And I was able to research and publish articles to this website without major issue.

But unfortunately, multitasking is still far from elegant, and it’s what separates this device the most from a “real” computer. One issue I ran into immediately: even though Slack supports multitasking, the app only pulled in new messages when I was engaged with it; if I tapped on the other app I was running alongside it, Slack would sit idle and refuse to show new messages that were added to the conversation until I tapped on it.

Maybe when Android apps on Chrome OS come out of beta and are widely available in every classroom that uses a Chromebook, that’ll be the incentive that’s been missing to get developers to create Android apps that work well on large screens.

Maybe Android tablet apps will be better this year.

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