Mobile OPERATING SYSTEM
At this point, there are basically five main tablet operating systems for you to pick from. To minimize the potential grief I might get from fanboys for any perceived slight to their OS, I am listing them in alphabetical order (yeah, don’t hate the player, hate the alphabet system):
- Android (Google)
- BlackBerry Tablet (RIM)
- iOS (Apple)
- webOS (HP/Palm)
- Windows (Microsoft)
If you already have a preference among these five, then the decision gets a lot easier. But if you don’t, here’s a quick rundown for each one.
Android: Google’s open-source baby, this OS has the biggest potential for spreading given its adoption by a wide-range of electronics companies such as Motorola, Samsung and LG. Advantages of the Android OS include great compatibility with Google’s suite of services (or “solutions”) such as Gmail, Google Maps and Google Docs. It’s also a more open system that’s more tinker-friendly and has fewer restrictions. This is a good OS for hackers and tech-savvy folks who like to customize their interface or fiddle around with the OS. It’s also a good OS for non-tech savvy consumers who want an alternative to the iPad. Although the first Android tablets sported the regular Android smartphone OS, newer tablets started featuring the Android “Honeycomb” OS, which is specifically designed for tablets. Ice Cream Sandwich, meanwhile, removes the divide between smartphones and tablets. Note that some tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet use a skinned custom version of Android and aren't as open as regular Android.
BlackBerry Tablet: One of the newer operating systems, the BlackBerry Tablet OS got such a positive response that folks griped at Research In Motion for not making it available to replace their suddenly aged OS for their smartphones. Business users who already have adopted the BlackBerry system at work will get the most use out of this. Down sides include a smaller number of apps compared to Apple and Android but BlackBerry will be adding Android app compatibility to its OS. Delays of a promised OS update that adds e-mail and messaging sans the connection to a BlackBerry smartphone, however, have soured much of the good will from the PlayBook's launch.
Example: BlackBerry PlayBook
iOS: As the operating system for the current tablet king — the iPad — the popularity of Apple’s iOS is undeniable. It’s arguably the simplest and most easy-to-learn interface around. While more tech-savvy folks may not like that, average consumers and non-technically oriented folks like grandma and grandpa will. Folks who have already invested a lot of time and resources to their iTunes collection will also prefer the compatibility and convenience iOS provides. Then there’s Apple’s monster selection of apps. Down sides include a more closed system, also known as Apple’s infamous walled garden. Still, enterprising folks have managed to jailbreak this puppy.
Example: iPad and iPad 2, iPod Touch
webOS: Google’s Android Honeycomb tablet OS got plenty of raves when it first got unveiled. But did you know that its main designer also happened to be the main designer for webOS before he left Palm? Unfortunately, Palm’s financial woes really hampered webOS’ progress and Hewlett-Packard's wishy-washy support and eventual fire sale of the once-promising HP TouchPad since acquiring Palm did some serious damage to webOS' viability. Down sides include an unclear future and not as much developer support compared to OS's such as iOS and Android.
Example: HP TouchPad
Windows: Ah, the old gray lady. Some folks might say Windows on a tablet is bloated overkill. But for power users on the go, it’s still nice to have a full-fledged PC operating system to work with. The biggest upside is that it basically does everything a PC does. Downsides include a less simple interface, longer boot times and, typically, shorter battery life for the devices that use it. Windows 8, however, is slated to change that old Windows look and adopts the more modern and tablet friendly design of the Windows Phone OS.
Example: HP Slate, ExoPC Slate
FORM & FUNCTION
If you value features over a specific operating system, then there are several things for you to consider. Will you be using your tablet for business or pleasure? Are you primarily interested in games or movies? Are you interested more in a travel companion? Here’s a closer look at the potential needs you may have.
Apps: When it comes to having a diverse collection of apps specifically for tablets, Apple’s iOS is clearly ahead of the pack. Add the apps for smartphones, however, and Android starts looking like a viable option. In fact, Android accounted for 44 percent of mobile apps downloaded worldwide in Oct. 2011, eclipsing Apple's 31 percent, according to ABI Research.
Since we’re considering tablets of different sizes, including smaller ones like the iPod Touch, then I’ll look at all apps collectively. Apple’s tighter control of its app store makes its app environment feel more stable for consumers who desire a certain level of consistency. Android, however, is steadily closing the gap as Google starts to invest more resources into its app environment. It’s more open approach, while feeling a bit like a free-for-all feel at times, also results in some interesting apps such as video game emulators that don’t require you to jailbreak your phone. It also has a larger percentage of free apps compared to iOS.