A Guide to Tablet Operating Systems

By TechZone360 Special Guest
Roy Chomko, President, Adage Technologies
September 22, 2011

As you are likely aware, there's lots of excitement around tablet computing.  Today all of the major technology vendors have released or announced tablet computers and their long term plans.  These include Apple, Google, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Research in Motion, and a host of others. But each of these tablets have very different operating systems with very different capabilities. This article will walk you through some of the benefits and challenges of each system.

Apple (iPad with iOS)

Pros:  Well designed, widely used, lots of apps, excellent battery life

Cons: No Flash, no USB ports

At this point in time, no one can deny Apple has hit a home run with the iPad.  While it may have its critics, the iPad has clearly redefined the market.  Where people used to utilize a desktop computer running Microsoft Windows to check email and browse the web, they are now using an iPad.  The iPad is slick and well designed and does an amazing job at what it is intended to do because Apple controls the hardware, OS, and, for the most part, apps that run on the iPad.

Apple's iPad has also pushed the boundaries of getting to a paperless office.  Now we’re seeing sales people and marketing folks with iPads complete with brochures, product catalogs, and other traditional print materials that can be sent to clients electronically after reviewing the materials in person.  Hospitals are experimenting with them to access patient charts and medical records.  Many other industries are finding a place for them as well.

In addition, Apple offers the largest app marketplace for users in the tablet space, another reason it’s a very compelling product.  However, one shortcoming is that the iPad like cannot run full functional apps such as word processing and spreadsheets.  Most are very specific singular task apps.

 Google (many manufacturers with Android)

Pros:  Lots of options, large app marketplace, runs Flash

Cons: Fragmentation, potential incompatibilities between apps on different systems

As with Apple, Google has modified their Android operating system to run on tablet devices.  Similar to the mobile phone space where Google allows any manufacturer to put Android on their hardware, they also offer Android to any tablet manufacturer that wants to use their OS.   Because almost anyone with enough money to manufacture a tablet device can put Android on it, the market is fragmented.  This means while most apps will run fine on Android devices, there will be some inconsistencies between devices running the same app.  For most users, this will not be a problem as they simply want to check email and browse the web.

A wide variety of manufacturers make this product enticing because you can get a device for a very low price point ($100 - $200 in some cases).  Companies with products on the market today include Acer, Archos, ASUS, Dell, Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba, Viewsonic, and a host of others.  Of course the problem with this is that you end up with a wide range of quality on the devices. I will not attempt to review any of these here as this would require another article unto itself.

The Android marketplace is effectively the as large as iTunes. In addition, most popular apps are available on both the Android marketplace and iTunes.   Also, Google has made the developer tools and environment robust such that it is not a problem for developers to write apps for the Android tablet OS.

Microsoft (many manufacturers with Windows 7)

Pros:  Anything you can run on a desktop will run on a Windows 7 tablet, use of stylus when desired

Cons: Windows 8 likely not available until end of 2012, power consumption

Given that Microsoft still controls the desktop today (sorry Apple), their actions in this space should be noted.   Microsoft has taken a different approach to tablets thus far as opposed to Apple and Google.  Where both Google and Apple took their phone OS and repurposed it for the tablet, Microsoft has not done that.  For the near term, Microsoft has pushed manufacturers to release products using the Windows 7 desktop OS versus using their Windows Phone OS.  Microsoft believes people are going to want to have the power of a full operating system running on a tablet and they are working towards that goal.

One issue that people are running into is that Windows 7 is inefficient because while it has all of the space and power it needs running on a desktop computer, it consumes a lot of power running on a tablet.  So, the best selling version of this (ASUS Eee Slate EP121) only gets 3 - 4 hours of battery life versus 8 - 10 hours on an iPad.  But again, you can run anything (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Flash and anything that runs on Windows).  A large number of manufacturers have a tablet version running Windows 7 and people are buying them.  They include Acer, Archos, ASUS, Dell, Samsung, and Viewsonic.  While this is a touch device, people report liking this tablet as it also allows them to take hand written notes, sketch, etc., using a stylus - something that is not found on iPad or Android devices.

The next version of Windows (version 8) is being touted as a full featured OS.  Everything you can do today on Windows 7 is promised to work on Windows 8.  Microsoft is also promising to focus on optimizing Windows 7 code to run more efficiently on tablets, thus consuming less power.  Windows 8 also promises to run a similar interface as the Windows Phone with the power of the desktop OS underneath.

This is not a complete list of tablet OS options but the ones I think are likely to matter in the coming years.  Others include HP's tablet running their previously acquired Palm OS and Research In Motion's (maker of Blackberry) Playbook tablet running something completely different from their phone. Both appear at this point to be going nowhere.  But in this market, things change so fast that we should never count anyone truly out of the game

TechZone360 publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

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