The company on Monday published a Tablet App Quality Checklist to help Android developers ensure that their apps meet "the basic expectations" in terms of features and user interface.
That's not exactly a high bar, but as mobile developer Noah Bordner described the state of Android apps in a blog post last year, "the quality bar on the Android Market [since renamed Google Play] is so pathetically low."
Google's interest in better tablet apps isn't merely for the sake of its Android hardware partners and to promote more Google Play app purchases: In addition to the company's 7" Asus-made Nexus tablet, Google is said to be developing a 10" Nexus tablet with Samsung.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month, International Data Corporation (IDC) raised its worldwide tablet market forecast to 117.1 million units, up from an earlier estimate of 107.4 million units this year. The extent to which Google and Android will benefit from this tablet surge remains to be seen: IDC expects Android's share of the tablet market to decline from 35.3% this year to 30.5% by 2016, largely due to projected shipments of Windows 8 tablets.
Unlike Apple's oversight of its App Store, Google does not reject apps submitted to Google Play based on perceived quality, though it does offer core quality recommendations.
Having previously prioritized release speed over quality to ensure that early versions of Android caught up with Apple's iOS, Google last year renewed its focus on quality. In March 2011, the company delayed the open source release of Android 3.0--the first version of Android to support tablets--because the code wasn't ready. It was a noteworthy shift from the company's prior practice of releasing code early and often.
And when Larry Page took over from Eric Schmidt as CEO a month later, Page focused on overhauling Google's products, design, and focus. Google products now look better, conveying at least the appearance of quality, and they may in fact be better as a result of more focused engineering efforts.
Now Google wants its developers to get with the program. The company provided advice to developers when it released its Nexus 7 tablet earlier this year, but with the approach of the holiday season--and the expected sales of many tablets--Google is encouraging developers to try harder. Reto Meier, tech lead for Android developer relations, explained in a blog post that high-quality tablet apps result in "increased user engagement, better monetization, and more downloads from tablet users."
To make a compelling tablet app, Google is advising developers to optimize apps for larger screens, to use extra screen space when it's available, and to use icons and other graphics assets designed for tablets. It is also encouraging developers to make apps just as functional on tablets as on phones and not to require features like telephony support that may not be available on all tablets.
That may sound fairly obvious, but for developers who have created Android apps for phones, rewriting code to work better with tablets can be a significant undertaking.