Editorial: Do true HD tablet displays mean more fragmentation for Android?

Posted on Mar 6 2012 - 3:46pm by Mike Wewerka

At this point, it is safe to assume that a Retina or HD display is a lock for the new iPad. With all those pixels crammed into that 9.7-inch display, developers will certainly have some work on their hands, updating their apps to take advantage of the new display and to make sure their apps don’t look like #%*@. When Apple released the original iPad, they made it possible for iPhone apps to scale up to the new iPad resolution (2x), but in the end, they’d end up slightly pixelated, luckily that was only short lived, as developers quickly create iPad only (or HD) apps.

With the new iPad 3/HD being 2x the resolution of the iPad 2, will Apple allow the same “rescaling” technique to work until developers can update their apps or has Apple come up with a new way of making this work?

Either way, with Apple’s closed ecosystem, they can make sure that every app will run on the new iPad in some manner and will most likely find a way to make it happen smoothly. Since the apps are on their store, and will run on their OS and device, they have more control over the end result.

With rumors of an HD Galaxy Tab coming from Samsung, how will apps on the Android market fair when being played or used, on a tablet with such a high resolution when the OS doesn’t fully support it? When Google launched Honeycomb, that was the biggest problem and it caused an app drought. Even today, Android tablets still have way fewer apps than its phone counter-part. While Samsung can format the OS to work on their tablet, when a game from another company is downloaded and played, that’s another issue all together.

Here’s the other problem, will developers want to spend the extra time (and money) required to update their app for only one tablet that may or may not sell well? Samsung themselves have admitted, they aren’t doing very well in the tablet market, so where is the incentive for developers? The HD Galaxy Tab may look gorgeous and be extremely fast, but without direct developer support, it might as well be dead in the water. Developers who work on iOS devices, specifically the iPad 3/HD, realize that it will quickly become the new standard for iPads and so they’ll update the apps in a way where it will work on the HD display and those below it.

Ultimately, the addition of HD resolution (above 720p) support for Android rests with Google. Which for them is sort of a double edged sword, a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario. A new version of Android is required to support resolutions to match that of the iPad 3/HD, which could come with Jelly Bean (Android 5.0), but people are already complaining that it’s to earlier for another update because so few devices are even running Android 4.0. So if Google rushes Jelly Bean to the market, to please manufacturers who wish to utilize it for HD tablets, then what happens to Ice Cream Sandwich. It could cause more fragmentation than what already exists, which is not good.

While I strongly feel that Google must keep Android “open,” I feel that if they are going to manage their own Store for apps, books, music and more, then they need to take more control. Whether that means allowing customers to remove skins/UI’s from a device after they purchased it, so they can update their device on their own or forcing OEM’s to make a “vanilla” device along side of a skinned one, I don’t know.

After taking a step back, I think the problem of fragmentation isn’t necessarily a fault of Google’s, although they could help solve it, it is actually the manufacturers, who are constantly adding things to their Android devices to make their products distinct in the market. Distinct as they may be, custom UI’s are also slowing down the updating process by months, rather then weeks. The other problem, at least here in the states, are the smartphone carriers, which require an update to undergo testing, after they’ve added their own bloatware, to ensure that it works on their network without issue.

So while I look forward to HD Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab, I’m just fearful at the price it will cost the Android ecosystem as a whole, the last thing it needs is more fragmentation.

If you have an idea on how Google could help eliminate fragmentation, but also add more feature or updates, please let us know.