Google's Android OS fragmenting into a death spiral may be overblown at times, but it certainly won't be overstated in the tablet arena - assuming of course, one of these years PC hardware vendors will be able to compete with Apple's iPad and its pricing.
Android's appearance in the tablet market is currently minimal, but as PC vendors are forced to get in the game due to shrinking netbook and notebook sales, Google is going to witness Pandora breaking out of her box, with no quick fix on how to remedy the situation. The issue I am speaking of is one that is (or soon will be) staring every Android tablet developer squarely in the face — Android's complete lack of attention to hardware vendor's screen resolution, aspect ratio and pixel density. Mind you, this is no trivial problem.
The mythical creature known as resolution independence was to cure all ills, but it has been as elusive as Bigfoot. Until a solution can be found, Android tablet applications are going to experience many growing pains. Here's but a small sampling of Android tablet display disparities:
||1280 x 800
|Samsung Galaxy Tab
|| 1024 x 600
||800 x 600
|Coby Kyros MID7005
||800 x 480
||800 x 480
||854 x 480
TechCrunch's Android loving Jason Kincaid shed some light on how poorly applications designed for Android phones (didn't) work on Motorola's XOOM. To quickly summarize, it's hideous. How Google and Apple addressed how applications scaled from phones to tablets is miles apart. Apple simply choose to scale the image 2x. It wasn't perfect but it worked. Apps were not cropped or squeezed to one axis or another, and Apple made a simple leap from earlier iPhone models to iPhone 4 by jumping to a straight doubling of the resolution.
But Google doesn't control the hardware Android runs on. Therefore Google's approach was to try and fit applications into various screen resolutions and sizes. Android Honeycomb developers will have to go through the rigorous task in figuring out how to build and repurpose their applications more or less for devices, not a platform.
What this means for consumers is that until native Honeycomb apps arrive each app will greatly vary in quality. Which sizes, resolutions and aspect ratio's begin to win out for Android tablets is anyone's guess, but its likely to be a long process towards display standardization. Apps for Android 2.x may have exploded in volume, but native apps for Honeycomb may be a long time in making. Google will likely claim large numbers of native Honeycomb tablet applications, but what will that mean? Native for a 4:3 screen at 800 x 600 or native for 1280 x 800 16:9 — or both, or more? 100,000 native Honeycomb apps does not guarantee any given tablet will see the same number native for that given products display. It's going to get quite messy before Android can clean itself up.
Meanwhile, Apple is busy delivering products that — shock — just work. Steve Jobs and company seem to be proving Alan Kay to be more right every day, and tens of millions of users are saying thank you.