Guide to iPad and other Tablet Devices : Part 3
Operating Systems and Applications
If you already have an
Android powered phone, you might recognize this screen shot
as being from an Android powered tablet device.
Part 2 suggested a tablet's
screen was its most important hardware attribute (and there are
plenty of other important attributes to follow). However,
the tablet's operating system is the feature that gives life to
the hardware, and its application programs are the features that
apply actual use to the features.
Your choice of operating system
is vital, because it then defines which set of applications will
be available to buy (or get for free) to add to your new tablet
There are two major and
dominant OS choices (Apple's iOS and Google's Android) and a mix
of other minor OS choices too. Read on to understand the
implications of your OS choice.
Operating System and
What use is a tablet to you
if it has no applications? None whatsoever. The type
of operating system (OS) the tablet runs on is of paramount
importance, and directly related to the OS will be the
availability (and cost) of applications (apps).
There are currently two
dominant operating systems. Apple makes its iOS, which is
available only on its iPad range of tablets. Google
oversees the development of Android, which is available on
many/most of the other tablet devices.
Both iOS and Android have a
vast library of applications for you to choose from, and
probably way more than you'll ever need. In both cases,
the operating systems are originally designed for phones with
smaller and lower resolution screens, but most of the apps
originally written for phones will run on tablets too.
There are also a growing
number of apps for iOS that have been redesigned and rewritten
to take advantage of both the extra pixels and the extra space
on the larger iPad screen - the greater physical size allows for
a whole new design of program interfaces. When Android
based tablets become more common, and when there is some
standardization on Android tablet screen sizes, we can expect
similar evolution of design for Android apps too.
At present, due to it being
the first tablet released, Apple's iOS and its apps probably
have an advantage over Android, but this is likely to be a very
short term advantage. Android based phones are already
probably outselling iPhones, and it seems reasonable to expect
that the broader range of Android based tablets will at least
draw close to iPad sales in the year ahead, and may again
Other OS Choices
There are other potential
operating systems too. Hewlett Packard bought Palm and
after various false starts and announcements involving tablets
that might be using Android or even Windows as an OS, it seems
they will now be releasing a tablet in 2011 based on Palm's
webOS. But there are not nearly as many apps available for
webOS, and not much developer interest in writing or converting
apps for webOS.
RIM, the makers of
Blackberry phones, have just announced their own tablet, the
Playbook (a strange name for a device presumably targeted more
to corporate than leisure users). This Playbook is to be
based not on the Blackberry OS but on a different and
incompatible OS that RIM had purchased a while ago. There
will probably be even fewer apps available for this new OS with
no hardware history behind it.
There are other OS options
potentially available, too. The slumbering giant that is
Nokia occasionally mutters about its new Meego OS, but the first
phone based on that is not likely to be seen until 2011, and who
knows when a Meego tablet might appear, and what apps might be
Meego is a Unix derivative,
and there may well be other Unix derivatives offered on tablets
too, and they may potentially be able to run some/many existing
Unix applications too. But it is unknown how many
applications would be available for them, particularly
applications custom designed for the comparatively small screen
size and weak processing power that is found in a tablet.
Oh, then there's Microsoft
too. Maybe their Windows 7 in some form could run on a
tablet, and/or maybe their Windows Phone 7 software might also
adapt to a tablet. But neither OS seems to be featuring
prominently in any credible tablet solutions at present, and if
you were to choose Windows 7, while there are plenty of regular
Windows applications, there are very few that would work well in
such an underpowered processor, such scarce memory and disk,
with a touch screen rather than keyboard/mouse, and at
For most people, the choice
of OS boils down to either iOS or Android. We would
greatly hesitate before choosing a tablet based on any other OS.
Future Upgrade Path
This is a hard issue to
evaluate - who can truly predict the future. But it is
relevant to note that not all Android devices have been able to
accept each new iteration of Android as it has been released,
either due to hardware limitations within the device, or
apathy/disinterest/marketing decisions (ie encouraging people to
upgrade hardware to access the upgraded software) on the part of
To be fair, Apple's original
iPhone can not be upgraded to iOS 4, and its earlier second and
third generation iPhones can accept only partial rather than
complete iOS 4 upgrades too, primarily for hardware reasons.
If you are able to get any
sort of understanding about how a particular tablet manufacturer
will respond to future OS upgrades (and nothing is more certain
than there will be regular and substantial upgrades/enhancements
to tablet operating systems over the next few years) that might
help you better understand the future of your device.
Android upgrades will
probably be free, iOS upgrades may or may not be free - a clue
to that is in how Apple has handled upgrades to its iPod Touch
devices. Apple has always given free upgrades to iPhone
users, presumably because Apple derives some sort of ongoing
revenue from iPhone users and their AT&T account activity, but
has typically charged $10 or so for each major release offered
to iPod Touch owners.
of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.
Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the
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29 Sep 2010, last update
21 Jul 2020
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