Tablet wars: Those with the most and best apps win

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I just linked to an article over on called “Top Tablet Comparison: iPad vs. Xoom vs. TouchPad vs. PlayBook” that compares the in-the-market iPad with 3 possible contenders that have yet to be sold. The article very correctly discusses which of the tablets are likely to get the most applications (“apps”) built for them.

Personally, I think the market will end up supporting two top contenders: the iPad and the best tablet that runs Android 3+. Then there will be a strong #3, but with far less marketshare than the top two. Though it is really too early to make a fact-based prediction, I would not be surprised if that #3 eventually was a WebOS tablet from HP.

Samsung may be #4, but after that all other contenders will have share lost in the error term. That is, something, but so small that the top contenders’ share and revenue will dwarf it. Put yet another way, share so small that executives at the companies will ask themselves why exactly they are in the market at all. I think Microsoft will not be a significant player here.

I also believe that the dominant tablets will end up being in the 10 inch form factor and not the smaller 7 inch one. I’m not looking for a bigger smartphone, I want something that has decent real estate with which to work and read.

Aside from the variations in hardware, the quantity and quality of the apps will differentiate the contenders. I think some of the vendors are now saying “Well Apple has 15,000 apps [or whatever] but we have 15 REALLY GOOD ONES.” Pretty dumb.

Recommendations and ratings help separate the wheat from the chaff when deciding which one of the one hundred similar apps for a given activity is really the best, but I really think recommenders should be required to state how closely they are related to the app developer. (I’m joking, but some of the 5-star recommendations are really content free.)

It is not easy to write apps for these devices, so the quality of the developer programs will also help determine which hardware gets the most and best apps. This does not obviate the need for developers to support the most popular devices in order to support themselves. However, a bad developer program creates a lot of frustration and bad will. Apple has a very good one and Google appears to have a decent one, but less warm and fuzzy for people starting out.

An important factor is how much code can be shared across implementations on the different devices. For example, if you stick with Objective-C from Apple, it won’t help you with Android. Conversely, Java for Android won’t give you Objective-C. Cross platform kits like Appcelerator Titanium may help you, but I have no personal experience with it.

My philosophy would be to factor the app into a UI front end written in the main language for the device, then have most of the core logic in an engine written in C++. The advantage to this is that you may be able to put a simplified front end on the backend that is then used to drive a test suite on a desktop or server where it is easier to automate such things.

Devices that make it too hard to get high quality cross-platform apps written for them will die off unless they already have massive marketshare or can get it because of successful linkage to other very strong products. Developers will follow the money as well as the platforms with elegant and productive development tools and programs.