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Is Ice Cream Sandwich Eating Honeycomb's App Lunch?

Honeycomb-based tablets have been in the market for more than four months now, and there's still a depressing lack of dedicated Android tablet apps. What gives?

When the Motorola Xoom launched in February, it had access to just two dozen applications that were optimized for the Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet operating system. Normal Android apps work on Honeycomb tablets, but they don't take advantage of Honeycomb's special features. Thirty days later, that number had barely grown to about 50 apps. At the time, this was worrisome, but could be explained somewhat by the nascency of the platform.

Fast forward to now--four months after launch--and the number of dedicated Honeycomb apps has hardly grown at all. In fact, I can't find evidence of more than 100. I truly hope I'm wrong. Even at the high end, there are less than 1,000 apps for Honeycomb.

How is it possible that so few apps have been written for Honeycomb? I have a few ideas.

There are still only a half-dozen Android tablets in the market--the Motorola Xoom, LG G-Slate, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 are chief among them. Others have been announced. So far, none has been able to put a significant dent in iPad sales. As I hypothesized back in March, developers may simply be cautiously awaiting for Honeycomb tablets to take off. Why bother if no one is buying the tablets, right?

Google announced Honeycomb 3.1 in May. It provided a new software developer kit for the updated system, which includes tons of new and interesting features. Now that we're six weeks out from Google I/O (when the SDK became available), surely developers should have crafted some apps by now? Apparently not.

So what's holding developers back? Is Honeycomb difficult to write for? Is there not enough critical mass in Honeycomb tablets to make the effort worthwhile?

My theory is that Ice Cream Sandwich is to blame. Ice Cream Sandwich is the forthcoming version of Android that Google said will become available in the fall of this year. Ice Cream Sandwich offers one key benefit over Gingerbread and Honeycomb--it combines the two.

Ice Cream Sandwich will be a master version of Android that draws upon features of both Gingerbread and Honeycomb. This is relevant because developers will, in theory, only have to write applications once to run on both Android smartphones and tablets. As it stands today, developers have to create their applications for either Gingerbread or Honeycomb, and then adapt to the other. Not so with Ice Cream Sandwich. Developers may be waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich and its associated SDKs/APIs to become available before fully targeting the Android tablet market.

The one thing that bugs me about this theory is that I would still expect a significant number of major developers to *not* wait for Ice Cream Sandwich and plow forward with Honeycomb apps regardless. There's no evidence that developers are doing this, however.

As Clara Peller so aptly put it in 1984, where's the beef?

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