If you enjoyed the recent WindowsTalk article – 3 Helpful Tips for Choosing Your First Tablet – you’ll now have a solid base for taking the first steps in choosing a tablet PC. In this article we’re going to look at the principle operating systems and supporting eco-systems available on a tablet – iOS (on the Apple iPad), Android and Windows. We’ll consider their strengths and weaknesses so you can decide what is best for your needs.
The Tablet Operating System Battle
There are currently 5 major tablet PC operating systems – Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry Tablet OS and WebOS.
We’re going to focus here on the first three as it’s been a rocky road for Blackberry Tablet OS and WebOS. The Blackberry Tablet OS runs on the Blackberry Playbook tablet, it’s a good operating system, but has been plagued by a lack of apps and supporting eco-system. Because of this, it has failed to really gain serious traction in the market. The HP TouchPad is the only tablet that runs WebOS, but this tablet has now been discontinued so it’s likely the operating system will effectively die out with it.
Which of the remaining 3 are best for you? This is a complicated decision so let’s look at the operating systems in more detail.
iOS is the operating system that runs on Apple’s iPad. This is the only tablet that it runs on, and it’s been specifically designed around the iPad hardware. iOS is a very simple, but highly polished operating system. It’s particularly easy to use and the average user will find it quick to pick up.
It’s intuitive, swipes and taps with a finger will navigate you between home screens and allow you to select your desired app. These home screens include all your apps, games and other content.
At the heart of iOS is iTunes. Without iTunes the iPad would be just another tablet. iTunes brings a huge range of content to the iPad, that no other tablet has been able to match so far. The range and volume of music, videos, apps, games, ebooks and much much more, is just so vast in comparison to Android or other operating systems. iOS is a slick and polished operating system, but it’s this range of media content that really is the lifeblood of the success of the iPad.
However, some have been quick to criticize the use of iTunes with the iPad. If you want to get content onto your iPad the only option is to load it via iTunes. The iPad is locked down to the content, apps and games that Apple approve and means you’re limited to the content that is available to iTunes. A lot of people won’t want the restrictions that Apple enforce. The positive aspect is that apps and games are fully checked out by Apple to ensure they meet quality standards and don’t contain malware.
One last key point with iOS, is that Adobe Flash is not supported. This means you don’t have access to any content on the Web that is delivered using the Flash technology – things like Flash video, Flash animation or Flash games.
Android is Google’s operating system for mobile devices. Although it was initially a smartphone operating system, Android started appearing on tablets from versions 2.1 and beyond. When Android 3.0 was released, it was specifically designed and optimized for larger screen tablet formats.
The latest version of Android (version 4.0, aka “Android Ice Cream Sandwich”), brings a lot more polish to Android. It’s more usable than previous versions and highly configurable. It’s not quite as user-friendly as iOS on the iPad, because there’re a lot more options with Android. This means it’s more suited to people who want to fiddle and personalize their operating system. Android is an open operating system, which means any manufacturer, developer or user with some knowledge, can customize Android on their tablet by altering the code. Another advantage is there’s a lot of tablets that run Android so you have a huge range devices to choose from.
The flip side is that Android is a very fragmented operating system – it comes in many versions and that can lead to issues where the user experience is variable and software may not run on all versions of Android.
Android also has its own app, gaming, ebook and movie rentals store called Google Play. Whilst this is pretty decent, the range of applications and media specifically designed for an Android tablet doesn’t come close to competing with the range of content available for iOS. However, Android does support Adobe Flash and a wider range of video and music formats.
Android will continue evolving over the coming years. If you already have an Android smartphone, it’s more likely that it’ll be a natural choice for you.
Microsoft Windows has been on tablets for many years now, but failed to make much of an impact. Windows 7 tablets tend to be designed as an alternative to a laptop – they offer the same range of uses as your laptop or desktop computer, but on a tablet touchscreen interface.
iOS and Android are much more designed for media consumption whereas Windows is more for content creation. On Windows tablets you can run just about any application as you’d expect on your desktop PC – it has a full operating system. This means applications like Microsoft Office – including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Whilst this provides lots of flexibility, the downside is you need a much more powerful processor and fan to keep the tablet cool. The net effect is that Windows tablets tend to be heavier and bulkier than other tablets on the market. The battery also drains much quicker.
Windows 7 wasn’t designed specifically for a tablet interface. This means that although it has a touch interface, all the applications are designed to be controlled by a mouse rather than the fingertip. It can be very fiddly to navigate menus and icons in the operating system by tapping with a finger.
Your best option is to invest in a stylus which gives you the ability to accurately hit points on the screen, however not many people want to carry around a stylus with their tablet.
If you’re familiar with Windows and really want to use Windows software then you should consider a Windows 7 tablet. However, future versions of Windows will be much more geared towards a tablet format, and the associated touchscreen input. The other downside with Windows is it can take a long time to boot up when you first turn it on, whereas Android and iOS are designed to boot in seconds.
Which Tablet Operation System Should You Choose?
Ultimately the operating system that suits you the best will depend on your specific requirements. There are pros and cons to each, but at the moment iOS on the iPad is winning the battle for consumers minds and wallets.
You’ll find much more buying advice from Ted Summs at WhatTabletPC.com where you can also sign-up to his free email course that walks you through how to choose a tablet PC that’s perfect for you. Ted also covers reviews of the latest tablets and tutorials to get the most out of your device.