Tablets in the mass market are still a new and continually expanding segment in consumer technology. While tablet PCs have been in existence for over a thousand years, the first commercially available tablets didn’t come to the mass market until 1989 when Samsung introduced the MSDOS based GRiDPad. And since then, as with desktop operating systems, we’ve had a long history of software updates with visual and features upgrades to accommodate the needs of the modern era.
Well, we’re living in as modern an era as it gets, and for our daily consumption of the internet and all the knowledge available to consume therein, we need yet another device to fit in our lifestyle. Desktops and laptops aren’t enough anymore, nor are smartphones that can provide virtually any sort of information virtually anywhere. No, we need tablets to spend more time sitting on our comfy couch, or even on the bed, and the throne (if the situation demands it) to see more of what we already saw on our desktops, laptops and smartphones.
Smartphones are too small, and laptops are too big, we need something in between. Netbooks are a tad bit cumbersome, and these 7” to 10” tablets are just the perfect way to browse the internet, check up on Facebook, Twitter and emails, as well as well as play the occasional extremely addictive mini-games.
So if I’m to use said tablet to fill in the gap in my modern lifestyle to consume digital media, while also paying around AED 2k to 3k+ (USD 500 to 800+), why should I compromise on my “feature-rich” experience?
As an end-consumer, all I want my tablet to do is perform exactly how it’s advertised, and do it good. A lot of tablets get the former right, but fail on the latter point. I’m not going to open the can of worms accompanied by ‘jailbreaking’ your iPad or ‘rooting’ your Android tablet, so let’s stick to the basics here.
We all know of iPad, and therefore the iOS4 in some capacity or the other. It’s visually simple, but very elegant, and the A5 chip in the iPad 2 makes everything run ultra-smooth. The App Store has over 500,000 apps; going through them all takes a truly patient (wo)man. There is, of course, not as much freedom in the type of apps that are available on Apple’s App Store, but everything that comes through there is safe and secure. You’re giving up freedom of customizability for a safer, faster and more polished experience. Yes, there’s no Flash support, but the majority of videos online are written with iOS device playback in mind. Not to mention the whole shift from Flash to HTML5.
Google’s Android Honeycomb OS is a completely different beast from the iOS4. On a fundamental level they’re both the same operating systems, with the same type of features and eventual usability. The Android platform offers something visually different to the iOS, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. And because Honeycomb can run on a variety of different hardware configurations from various manufacturers, it means that it’ll almost never have the same polished finish and feel as iPad. The simple act of scrolling through apps, let alone homescreens crowded with widgets, feels strained. While browsing the net, I never get a feeling of elegant gesture controls from Honeycomb tablets as I do from iPads. The Android marketplace is filled with apps that are still unoptimized for Honeycomb, and as such look incredibly ugly. Yes, there are a lot of apps that will make you personalize your Honeycomb tablet, but it’ll all just end up slowing down your tablet. I can see a lot of potential in Honeycomb, but Google has to make long strides yet to be able to go toe to toe with Apple.
It’s funny, back when Apple launched the iPad, it was one of the most laughed at gadgets in the world. Just a year later, with nearly 20 million units sold, and well over $2 billion in revenue through apps on the App Store, the rest of the world is now playing catch-up.
Of all the tablets that have come out, whether they are different flavors of Honeycomb or Windows, or even RIM’s PlayBook, nothing has the refined feeling and smooth UI experience of the iOS. Competitors are even now coming up with “better and more improved” features, yet Apple is still ahead of the curve. To be sure, the iOS4 is stagnating now, but let’s wait and see what the iOS 5 will bring.