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Time to get your iHead out of the iSand

Samsung Galaxy Tab - in the hand
Image by liewcf via Flickr

Android tablet publications will need a very different mindset then those published on the iPad. Google’s OS is on the rise and it requires more open functionality.

The iPad is currently in the spotlight, especially with the concept of device-specific publications, but it won’t stay there forever. As of last year Android became the top-selling smartphone OS, finally overtaking Symbian. On the tablet front, Google has yet to release their format-friendly OS Honeycomb, but that didn’t stop Android tablets from grabbing 22% of the market share.

Keep in mind the primary device is the overpriced Galaxy Tab which, despite many flaws, shipped 2 million units.  Imagine what will happen when Android finally turns over a tablet-ready OS? I’m betting that any iPad-specific publications, magazines, newspapers or other applications will either launch Android editions or be left behind.

Android publications will need a very different mindset then I’ve seen so far in the iPad. I’ve mainly been playing with aggregation-publications NewsMix and FlipBoard and if they’re any example of what magazines are doing (or the new News Corp iPad-only publication) there is just so much more opportunity on an Android device.

The main difference is that the iPad and its applications expect a very passive user. What I’ve seen is that few applications have truly decent sharing functionality. NewsMix allows you to share with Twitter and Facebook, but doesn’t give you a lot of power to decide what you’ve got to choose from. FlipBoard allows greater customization of sources but is useless for sharing stuff on anything but the network it originated on.

My experience on my Android phone is entirely different. I regularly share content on multiple services, no matter where it originated from and sometimes even build content around what I read. I frequently interact with other apps on my phone, sometimes passing content from one to the other. This hits at the heart of what will be the most difficult thing for publication developers as they adapt to Android, as well as the key to success.

The iPad is a closed device and applications on it take their cue from the OS. iPad applications are self-contained, closed off, little islands of developer-determined functionality. Any sharing goes on in the application and using the functionality built into the application, for better or worse.

This just won’t fly on an Android tablet.

Publishers are no doubt loathe to allow other applications to touch their valued content but without that functionality they’re missing out on what using an Android phone is all about.

What interactivity makes a quality Android tablet publication?

Paragraph-by-paragraph linking: The online reading experience is all about sharing. Unfortunately long-format articles can make that difficult, especially when they are formated differently on a tablet then on the web. If it allows the user to link to specific sentences, it just makes it easier to create links via short-form social networks.

Rich integrated multimedia experiences: Implementation of video and audio mid-content on the iPad always feels… off. Android, complete with Flash-friendly software, will allow people to better integrate their active media into the story. I can think of clicking on pictures that go video, fancy drop downs, more interesting menus, etc…

Every app, a platform: This will be especially difficult for publications with paywalls, but allowing users to look at articles in their browser or otherwise treat the article like they could in a browser. Give them the ability to pull content into other applications and use it.

Making use of the menu: Unlike on an iPad, Android apps have access to a pop-up menu with options customizable by the developer. I can imagine some of the Main Stream Media publishers trying to close off any meaningful options here, but there’s a lot that could be done. Quick links to sections, changing readability settings, leaving audio and video comments, sharing and tagging. There is a lot of cool functionality that the Android menu allows, it would be a shame not to take advantage.

What functionality do you think should be part of all Android tablet publications?

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