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Choosing the Right Tablet OS and Ecosystem

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Tablet PCs for nearly a decade ran almost exclusively with a Windows operating system. Enterprising users could install various forms of Linux and occasionally a third party would try their hand at the platform, but Windows was the only mass market option. That all changed in 2010 when Apple strolled along and changed how we think about the tablet PC environment and what we should expect from an operating system.

Shortly after, Android started appearing on tablets like the Galaxy Tab and we are on the cusp of the newest iteration of Android in the form of Honeycomb, developed specifically for tablet computers. What was once a one horse race with half a dozen spectators is now a sprint being televised around the globe.

Windows 7

Despite the newcomers, Windows is still a big time player in the operating system wars. And Windows 7 isn’t a bad interface. It provides all the functionality of your PC in a mobile format, the Touch Interface Panel (TIP) is great for handwriting input, and support for multiple languages on the fly is great for those who travel. The biggest problem with Windows 7 on a tablet, unfortunately, is that we’ve all seen and used iOS and Android. They are faster and to the point and utilize a brilliant App model that allows small time developers to solve consumer problems with inexpensive software.

I have long preferred Windows on a tablet and continue to use it. That may change in the months to come, especially if Microsoft continues to ignore how and why people use tablet computers.

Android

The first handful of tablets to run Android was good but not mind blowing. If you ignore the devices that were obvious attempts to cash in on a new trend, hardware on tablets like the Galaxy Tab was solid and the custom build of Android 2.2 used by Samsung worked very well, if not ideally. It was a good alternative to the iPad for many consumers.

However, with Android 3.0 just around the corner (the Xoom release date is likely only two weeks away), we have an entirely new wave of devices to get excited about. With more advanced Widgets on the home screen, more intuitive integration of Google Apps, SD storage support, a new graphics engine for high end gaming, native video chat and much more, Honeycomb is a tablet-specific OS that offers quite a few advantages over Apple’s tablet system.

iOS

Finally there is the beast that started the tablet renaissance – Apple’s iOS. Developed for the iPhone and refined for the iPad, iOS may not be everyone’s favourite but it is everywhere. There are some very real drawbacks in iOS of course. Users must tether to iTunes for updates and backups, there is no Flash support in the web browser and once you choose an iPad, there are no other devices compatible with your iTunes and App Store purchases.

But, despite its drawbacks, iOS is the most intuitive system on the market right now. Anyone can pick up and use an iPad and with a developer community that has produced more than 400,000 apps (60,000+ of which provide native iPad support), you can do a lot with the device.

The Other Guys

Apple, Microsoft and Google will likely dominate this conversation for some time to come, but that doesn’t mean there are not alternatives on the horizon. RIM is preparing to release the Playbook with a brand new OS courtesy of in-house developers QNX. MeeGo is still slated to premiere on a number of tablets in 2011 as an open source system courtesy of Intel, Novell, Nokia, and Linux. Even HP is working on a tablet edition of their WebOS.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen so many companies so eager to jump into a new market like this and it’s fun to watch. Hopefully at the end of it all, consumers win out with OS options that provide the best and most flexible set of tools. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) next week we will see the reality of iOS competitors come to life and with this the ecosystem will begin to breath. Ultimately these won’t be virtual ecosystems but real environments with players willing to take your credit card details, have you interact, upload, download and share as you please. Now your choice will revolve around which Tablet and which ecosystem to plug it into – often this choice will not be an easy one. Don’t forget I’m here to help.

Hugo Ortega is a tablet PC geek, a veteran of over 10yrs Tablet experience. Utilised globally as a public speaker by organisations such as Microsoft, CeBIT, Hannover Fairs, and many more Ortega is also an author, father of three and passionate facilitator. Always willing to assist he is a passionate advocate willing to assist.

16 Comments

  1. harv

    02/12/2011 at 1:02 am

    Thanks Hugo, for a fair and balanced review of the tablet os landscape. We all saw the release of HP Webos and now have four options, win7, honeycomb, Ios, and webos. And there’ll be more. Thanks again for not sliding into a sales pitch for the OEM who provided your “evaluation” device.

  2. Anonymous

    02/12/2011 at 6:45 am

    Well, I will stick with iOS, stick with my iPad, as it’s one of my habbit, and just give me much surprise, and I am also finding its more magic.
    Just as this iPad column reveals: http://www.ifunia.com/ipad-column/index.html

  3. Dave P

    02/12/2011 at 5:15 pm

    Good to see you back at GBM, Hugh.

    The one thing would add to your Windows comments is its support for an unmatched software ecosystem. While available apps for Android and iOS are getting better, nothing matches the capabilities, breadth, and depth of the applications available for Windows. For content creation and manipulation, as opposed to content consumption, its competitors have a long way to go. I can’t yet duplicate the capabilities of the software on my Win7 HP Slate in Android or iOS.

  4. Pipzlchoice Gregory

    02/12/2011 at 6:59 pm

    People are having very heated arguments about their tablets, but I would like to offer another perspective that is based on the degree a device have met expectations of its customers. Here is the link to the aggregated customer reviews analysis that your readers may find helpful http://tinyurl.com/amp4ereader. It compares customer perception of Galaxy Tab to iPad and other popular devices that compete for the same share of consumer wallet. Reputation of any device that was not included in the article can be checked by entering its name at http://www.amplifiedanalytics.com/V2P-Product-Reviews/Demo.

  5. Doug

    02/12/2011 at 11:39 pm

    what i want for a tablet is
    1. ability to draw on it
    2. ability for handwriting recogntion
    3. ability to run OneNote.

    Now figuring out which, in a rapidly eveolving market, is not at all clear.

  6. Hugo

    02/13/2011 at 2:09 am

    @Harv: Thanks mate for the comment and the welcome. You need to know, and I expressed this to Xavier repeatedly, my heart is in the right place – my expertise is my passion and my GottaBeMobile hat will be worn for the greater good of sharing and learning. The rest of my hats are worn for very different reasons, and other occasions. I’m really excited about being back and will do what I can to assist anyone with their Tablet queries.

    @Jeemy: I’m really happy for you mate but find it hard to agree. I find my love for the iPad (and I do love it) is short lived as it is little-more than an extension of iTunes, and my credit card. If I want to buy a Tablet I also prefer the freedom to use it as I wish. That’s my two cents worth. Thanks for the comment mate.

    @Dave P: Thanks for the welcome mate. It means a lot to me. :-) About your comment I totally agree. In fact most people know I am a Windows man through-and-through. If OS’s are an ecosystem then Windows is planet earth and Android, iOS and others are our Neptune, Mars and Venus. We’ve got pictures from these planets, we’ve even found water but ultimately it’s all much unchartered territory. LOL.

    @Gregory: thanks mate.

    @Doug: Thanks for your comment mate. Ultimately I lean can agree with your short list. The reality however is far more confusing and that’s why I came back to GBM – so I can lend a hand. Regrettably your choice of Tablets (based on your list solely) will actually be quite easy to narrow down as there will be a very few Tablets which will offer all this, especially Windows Tablets. I’ll be around so ask me whatever you need, whenever you need and I’ll do my best to help. Cheers for the comment mate!

  7. Anonymous

    02/13/2011 at 2:54 pm

    @Hugo said: “once you choose an iPad, there are no other devices compatible with your iTunes and App Store purchases.”

    Not sure what you mean here Hugo? The reality is that if you choose an iPad, your iTunes music purchases will work on just about every modern device in the tech world as everyone supports MPEG-4 audio (AAC), even Microsoft, Sony and Google. (there is no DRM on iTunes audio tracks, podcasts or iTunes U downloads)

    If you’re talking about iTunes TV shows, music videos, movies, rentals or purchased, then of course they will all play on iPods, iPhones, AppleTVs, Macs and Windows PCs.

    If you mean home audio systems, stereos, clock radios, home automation systems etc, then the vast majority have iPod/iPhone docks and are beautifully integrated with your iDevices. Well over 70% of cars have iPod docks as standard or optional extras allowing your iDevices to slot in and work with your steering wheel integration, dashboard docks and GPS amplifiers etc etc. Android devices have no common form factor or dock standard so are not nearly as compatible or integrated with the millions of devices lining the shelves of any electronics shop you walk into.

    If you mean Apps, then of course most apps will play on iPhones and iPod touches as well as iPads. Considering the iPod touch and iPad both have around 80% marketshare in their segments, that means those apps will play on the vast majority of devices available in those sectors. There are 160 million iOS devices out there in the world compared to only 60-70 million Android devices.

    Now if you choose an Android tablet, here’s hoping you aren’t stuck with the Dell Streak or Galaxy tab as the chances of upgrading those to run the Honeycomb release or apps designed for that OS are as slim as Galaxy S smartphone owners being able to get Froyo after almost a year of fruitless waiting.

    No, I think the compatibility problem lies well and truly on the Android side of the fence.

    -Mart

  8. Everbrave

    02/13/2011 at 6:03 pm

    Hugo, I won’t place the OS at the root of my decision table but rather the user/usage profile and then expand the tree downwards to whatever OS turns out to be. I’m sure you also came to like Windows because it serves your needs best.
    For a tablet, as a companion device (unless it is the only or main computer), it is very important how it integrates with the existing environment. I have an iPad and few Windows Tablets, for what it matters. If I have to choose now, I would stay with the iPad; it simply suites my usage profile best and integrates well with my computing environment.

  9. Hugo (@MrMobilePC)

    02/13/2011 at 11:01 pm

    @mrrtmrrt: Thank you for the great comment. I love your passion, commitment and dedication. What I am concerned about however is that with all the great qualities you’ve mentioned often too comes a sense of blind faith and unnecessary “bashing of the messenger”. My role in life is not to love or hate any platform but to learn enough to be of assistance to many. My comment, as per my article, is about giving a much generalised overview of where the market is at and headed. More specifically, about my comment you highlighted, I must assume by now that readers are well aware of all the positives that come with the Ipad, iOS and other Apple related creations. With this in mind my comment is not writing off the Apple windfalls but suggesting that with the exact benefits you mention, so too a user narrows down their flexibility. Don’t think for a moment that Apple is unlike any other company, in that they are looking to maximise profits and market share, and this will often come with sugar coating – but not always taste good or be good for you. Like a good communist infrastructure – it works perfectly until the dictator, or the public, begin to see differences in their approaches – there can be revolt. Thanks for the comment and for your passion. I love the response.
    @Everbrave: I absolutely love this comment and I think it sums up what I’ve been talking about for years, i.e. a device will only work if the user chooses it based on their needs – and not on media approval/disproval, price or aesthetics. I think we all have a set of wants and priorities but with computers, and like buying a house or car, there is always a priority (or desire) which is slightly more favoured or weighted for the user. Some people need battery-life, some need processing power, some needs screen brightness and others portability. Whatever your “core” need is, and however you work to identify this core need, will often dictate which device you buy (which ecosystem you plug it into) and ultimately how happy you’ll be. In your scenario, like many, the iPad does more than enough and that’s what makes it a huge success. The fun scenario is that we are now allowed to own more than one device.  For more help on choosing a Tablet look at my “hugometer”. Funny name but might be worth a mention at this point.

    http://ubertablet.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-to-buy-umpc-or-tablet-pc.html

  10. LeMel

    02/15/2011 at 10:12 pm

    I’m with Doug, same three requirements. So far only a Win7 tablet with an active digitizer can handle those. Nothing else can run OneNote with handwriting and sketching (except the mythical Courier). I finally realized that OneNote was my real deal-breaker, and it made me sad because there are so many nice devices and I really need to upgrade my Motion Computing slate. Maybe 2012…sigh.

  11. LeMel

    02/15/2011 at 10:12 pm

    I’m with Doug, same three requirements. So far only a Win7 tablet with an active digitizer can handle those. Nothing else can run OneNote with handwriting and sketching (except the mythical Courier). I finally realized that OneNote was my real deal-breaker, and it made me sad because there are so many nice devices and I really need to upgrade my Motion Computing slate. Maybe 2012…sigh.

  12. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

    02/16/2011 at 11:46 am

    @LeNel: Like you OneNote is my “happy place” as it has the ability to take waht is a good Tablet and translate it into something great! Win8 may see a refresh but for the moment Motion is a good choice, or look out for the TabletKiosk range too as I hear they’ll have a new slate soon. If you can get them, I’m also rather loyal to the Fujitsu Tablets as the quality and pen experience are hard to beat.

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