Google's Android Market, the mobile flea market

BRUNEI - The tablet, no matter how much of an extravagance it seems, is admittedly a great device to own.

After spending the whole day being glued to computers and smartphones at work, people just want a little Internet and some entertainment during downtime, even when the TV is already on in front of them.

After having their brains engaged all day, no one wants to boot laptops, plug things in and balance them on their laps. This is where the tablet comes in.

It is a particularly great device for reading. Think Flipboard (and other similar apps like Zite) and how it literally changes the way news and social feeds are ingested daily. Another medium the tablet succeeds in, are magazines.

While the iPad and Google's wide array of Android-powered devices are contentious rivals in delivering the best tablet-based media-consumption experience out there, the iPad is undoubtedly still the leader of the pack.

The next version of Google's tablet OS may have digital publishers scampering to the Google camp to make apps for them, but most existing publishers that produce apps jumped onboard the Apple bandwagon first.

And despite widespread grumblings and complaints from developers on Apple's vice-like grip on its App Store, vetting every submission and rejecting those that violated its rules, they're still there.

The New Yorker magazine (which subscribers must pay US$60 (S$73) a year for full access) surprisingly proved to be publisher Conde Nast's most successful iPad app to date, with the text-heavy heavy magazine having made close to US$1.2 million in subscription revenue from the app so far.

This is a total of 100,000 readers, including 20,000 paying digital subscribers. But far from being "technologically stimulating", the app eschewed Conde Nast's strategy for publishing tablet-specific interactive features such as those directed to a younger demographic like Wired Magazine.

Conde Nast's numbers is a reflection of the fact that when it comes to digital publications for tablets (taking into account the interactive touch factor that these devices carry) its quality that counts.

It's not just about piling on "technologically stimulating" features, i.e. extensive illustrations, videos and graphics, that may amount to fooling readers into believing they're actually paying their money's worth.

Creating an app focused on reading was their priority, said the magazine's deputy editor. "There are some bells and whistles, but we're very careful about that. We think about whether or not they add any value. And if they don't, out the window they go," Pamela Maffei McCarthy told The New York Times.

While Conde Nast has announced it will launch digital editions of its magazines for Google's Android later this year, it's still worth pointing out the kind of quality control that goes on in the execution of the app. This is the kind of quality control that we have come to expect from a company like Apple, but not Google. At least not yet.

While the growth of Google hardware sales have skyrocketed in recent years, making iPhone sales pale in comparison, sales of Android apps remain relatively poor. The Android Market managed just US$123.22 million in 2010, as opposed to the US$2.19 billion that flowed through the Apple App Store in the same period.

Research predicts significant improvements for Android next year, but it is still expected to lag far behind iOS, with developers pointing out that the problem lies with the Android Market.

Android is popular with developers owing to a lower barrier to entry, easier learning curve and high quality tools, but developers are finding a hard time making money on the Android platform. There is also widespread criticism on the lack of quality control - too many copycat, pirate or scam apps in the Android Market.

Security firm Symantec, in its 2011 Internet Security Threat Report, warned that Android was at particular risk from malware embedded in apps, discovering at least six varieties of malicious software that were already being circulated.

In a sense, the Android Market is like a crowded flea market. You're bound to find lots of great, cheap stuff there, but only after going through hundreds of useless scrap that may (or may not, to some) just undermine the whole "easy to use" experience.