Odd-brand tablet owners might be left holding an empty app-store bag.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Tablets 101: Where to get apps

January 20, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Now that you've got that tablet, what can you do with it? Where can you get apps? What's the best way to clean the screen? What about running heavyweight programs like Microsoft Excel?

The questions never end. Let's convene a three-week class in Tablets 101. Keep your seats and turn off your cell phones, please.

This week: Where to get apps.

There are, mercifully, only three kinds of tablets in general use, despite all the apparent differences -- iPad tablets made by Apple, Android tablets backed by Google (a list that includes Amazon Kindle and Nook tablets) and Surface tablets made by Microsoft or a few of its partners.

All these tablets are similar in many ways. They all run apps (small applications, or programs) you get from an app store, and many apps are free. On each kind, simply touch an icon for the app store to go there and shop.

If your Android tablet has an icon that takes you to the Google Play store, you have a genuine Google-gets-part-of-the-take Android tablet. Other Android tablets, ones that don't use the Google Play store, have their own app stores. Sometimes they're good and sometimes they're awful. Amazon's app store is great; it's the one you have if you own a Kindle. Nook users have the Nook app store, a cut below Amazon's. Surface tablets have a Microsoft app store. It's very new, so no one really knows how it will turn out.

Odd-brand tablet owners might be left holding an empty app-store bag. My first Android tablet, a brand almost nobody ever heard of, came with the "Get Jar" app store, an app store nobody should ever have to hear of. So I installed Amazon's app store. If you want to get it, go to the Amazon website and search for APP STORE for instructions. Google Play users can also install and use the Amazon store, too.

Apple's app store set the standard for how app sales should be handled. Google and Amazon, to their credit, have improved on Apple's method. They all work the same way -- you touch an app in the store's online catalog if you want to install it, then confirm you really want it. That's all. It's delivered and shows up as an icon, ready to run.

Apple's method of supplying refunds for apps seems to have been designed during the inquisition -- possibly one reason so many iPad users stick to free apps -- but Google is building a better reputation for refunds from its Play Store. I don't now how well the others do.

If you like to collect free apps, don't be surprised if your app store calls them "paid" and lists them as "purchased apps." That's just for the store's accounting methods. It's dumb (hello, Apple?), pointless and confusing. But free or not, all the stores keep track of everything you get and will let you "buy them" again without charge if you've lost or deleted any.

Finally, Android tablets, unlike the ones from Apple and Microsoft, don't care where you get your apps, so you can download them from enthusiast websites or share them by email. Just make sure you check the appropriate setting, "Allow installation of non-market apps," in the Security section of Android's Settings app. Apple and Microsoft aren't as kind; their apps are digitally marked, and won't work if you didn't get them from the official sources.

Next: The best apps for all those tablets.