The news: Less than two years after the introduction of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad, the tablet has not only dramatically transformed the mobile user experience but also revolutionized the kinds of applications and games that developers are creating. While developers are still exploring the possibilities of the tablet form factor, iPad signatures like larger screen size, enhanced processing power, improved graphics rendering and multi-touch interactivity are already yielding a multitude of programming opportunities that smartphones simply can't match. As a result, many of the most innovative iOS apps, from social magazine Flipboard to electronic music creator Animoog, debut as iPad exclusives or only migrate to the iPhone and iPod touch with dramatically simplified UIs.
Although Apple has now sold more than 40 million iPad units worldwide--roughly a third of all iPhone sales to date--developer interest in former device is fast catching up to enthusiasm for the latter. Among developers surveyed for development platform Appcelerator's Q4 Mobile Developer Report, 91 percent say they are very interested in writing for the iPhone, followed by the iPad at 88 percent--developer enthusiasm for creating Android smartphone apps is next at 83 percent, with Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone and Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry far behind.
But while "tablet app development" and "iPad app development" were essentially synonymous as 2011 began, developers are looking at platforms beyond iOS as the year comes to an end. Although enthusiasm for building Android tablet apps has long sputtered, held back by platform fragmentation (a situation that Google [NASDAQ:GOOG] promises to solve with the new Android 4.0) and anemic sales of Android-powered tablets, that's changing with the release of Amazon.com's Kindle Fire. Priced at $199, compared to $499 for the cheapest iPad, the Kindle Fire is fueling genuine developer enthusiasm for building Android tablet applications--in the weeks prior to the Fire's launch, 49 percent of North American developers told Appcelerator they are "very interested" in creating apps for the unit, citing cost as its most compelling factor.
Why it was significant: Although smartphones remain first and foremost a vehicle for interpersonal communications like voice calling and texting, tablets are solely dedicated to content consumption and sharing, creating an unprecedented opportunity for developers to build groundbreaking apps that translate into lucrative, sustainable businesses. Consumer passion for tablet experiences is already fierce: Digital research firm comScore reports that 67 percent of tablet owners play mobile games on their device at least once per month, and 23 percent play every day. With tablets topping many holiday wishlists this year, look for demand for tablet apps and games to continue to grow in the months ahead--and look for developers to shift their focus to meet that demand, and exceed consumer expectations in the process.