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The Droid Divide, by Jacki Fulwood

Situation:

You’re a librarian who believes firmly in the use of new media to further early literacy, and you often model best practices for using it by sharing your favorite children’s apps in storytime using your library’s iPad. Your storytimers love these apps, and their tech-savvy parents gratefully jot down (or text themselves) the apps’ names so they can add them to their personal tablets and use them at home. Way to go! You’ve just helped families find great digital resources. Except for one little problem…

At your next storytime session, you have a few parents expressing confusion. They couldn’t find the apps you’ve been using. Puzzled, you whip out the iPad and open the App Store, only to have the parents say, “Oh, we can only shop in Google Play.” What just happened? You just met an Android user.

Librarians have talked about the digital divide for years. Now, welcome to the Droid Divide, the phenomenon of developers creating apps for Apple devices and not developing an Android version, developing an Android version with fewer features, or releasing the Android version long after the Apple version hits virtual shelves (ahem, Instagram).

Consumers purchase Android tablets over Apple tablets for many reasons, but often the decision boils down to price. At the time of this writing, the basic Kindle Fire, Amazon’s Android-powered tablet, sells for $139. A 32GB Nook+, the top-of-the-line Android tablet from Barnes & Noble, will set you back $179. Compare that to iPad’s $399 starting price, and the Android tablets start looking pretty attractive. Even if you’re serving an affluent area with families who can afford iPads, some might prefer the Android interface or wind up with an Android tablet as a gift. Only after getting the tablet does the owner realize Google Play doesn’t contain the same goodies as the App Store, and in the case of the Kindle Fire, users are limited to apps available via Amazon, which cuts the selection down even more.

For perspective on apps for Android versus apps for iPad, consider the following. ALA’s Best Apps for Teaching and Learning list suggests 25 apps, but only 8 of those are Android-available. For the math-minded among us, that’s fewer than 30%. Little eLit maintains suggested app boards on Pinterest, and only 11 of the 93 apps pinned are available in Google Play. The issue in both cases is not an iDevice-centric approach on the part of the curators, but a lack of equality in offerings between the two platforms.

So what’s a new media-supportive librarian to do? First, don’t panic and feel like you’re waving awesome apps in front of people who can’t have them. Remember that you’re sharing resources with children who might not otherwise experience them. If your library lends iPads with early literacy apps installed, remind caregivers of that service.

Above all, be aware of the discrepancy and be ready to address it. Read app reviews. Know which apps are multi-platform, because they’re out there. Book apps from Loud Crow and Oceanhouse Media spring to mind. Ask co-workers, family, or friends who use Android tablets with their children to recommend favorite apps, and to test drive them if possible. If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll discover great resources for both platforms. Now, if only someone would develop an Android flannelboard app that actually works!

Jacki Fulwood holds an MLIS from the University of Oklahoma. A transplanted Okie, she is now Youth Services Manager of Latah County Library District in Northern Idaho as well as a reviewer for Shelf Awareness. Find her online at Storytime Hooligans.