The proliferation of Android devices has put smartphones and tablets in the hands of many people who never would have held either. Unfortunately, the majority of websites cannot tell the difference between an Android smartphone and an Android tablet. That's not good.
If you are spending US$ 500 or more for a tablet device that brags about running Android 3.0, you expect a decent browsing experience, right? Of course you do. The reality is that what you get on your Android tablet is the same site you see on your smartphone, only in a different resolution.
Where's Your Evidence?
Blaze (news, link), a cloud-based website performance optimization provider, recently conducted a study where it measured the top 500 sites in the US, according to Alexa, using both Android devices and iOS devices. For Android, a Nexus S and a Motorola XOOM were the representative devices. For iOS, it was an iPhone 4 and an iPad 2.
Of the 500 sites measured, 42% returned an iOS-optimized version while 38% returned an Android-optimized version. This is the point where things start to break down.
Of the 42% of the sites that returned an iOS optimized version, 92% recognized the iPad and returned a version of the requested site designed specifically for the iPad. Of the 38% of the sites that returned an Android-optimized version, 84% returned the smartphone version of the site to the tablet.
As mentioned above, what users see on their Android tablets (big screen) is most often the same site they see on their Android smartphone (small screen). It's not a giant leap to assume that most Android tablet owners are not happy about this user experience.
Why Does It Have to Be This Way?
It appears that Android is a victim of its own success. According to the Official Google Blog, "there are now more than 310 Android devices around the world, of all shapes and sizes." In the iOS world, there are 2 devices: 1 iPhone and 1 iPad.
If your website detects an iOS device, then it is only one more conditional check to see if said device is an iPhone or iPad. In the world of modern website development, that is referred to as simple.
If your website detects an Android device, it could be one of a myriad smartphones or tablets. From a development perspective, it is just easier to assume that every Android device is a smartphone -- because the majority of them are, given the slow uptake of Android tablets -- and deliver the smartphone version of the site.
This may be easier for developers, but it is certainly not easy on the eyes of Android tablet owners.
But before the Apple fanboys start patting themselves on the back, I am routinely disappointed in the versions of sites I see on my iPad 2. The iPad isn't immune, just better vaccinated.
What Does the Future Hold?
Unfortunately, the future shows more of the same for Android tablet owners. To replicate the moderate success of the iPad in the area of website optimization, Android fans will have to hope that a single tablet device emerges as a contender to the iPad throne.
But, that scenario goes against what Android represents -- namely, choice. Therefore, I don't expect this scenario to play out.
The important thing for Android tablet enthusiasts to remember is that web developers are a smart bunch and they love a challenge. As more Android tablets come online -- regardless of Android OS version or hardware configuration -- more analytics data will point toward this growing user segment.
Project managers will, in turn, use this analytic data as evidence to push their developers to find a solution for the pesky problem of delivering a tablet-optimized browsing experience.
I believe it is only a matter of time before the browsing experience on Android tablet devices catches up that of the iPad.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.