No, I’m not sure that “tableting” is a word nor am I going to worry about it at this point. What I do know is that over the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to use several different tablets and three different tablet OSes. Having now had hands on iOS, WebOS and Android, I can safely say what I like and don’t like about each and what I want a tablet OS to do for me. I wanted to take a look at all three and share my experiences for those in the market for a tablet. While WebOS is all but dead in the water, you may be one of the lucky ones who scored an HP Touchpad for $99. If so, keep reading.
Apple’s mobile OS, whether used on an iPhone or the iPad is safe and comfortable. The app store is huge, even on the tablet side. The size of the app store is the biggest advantage that Apple has going for them. That and marketing. And really, that’s where Apple has succeeded. They didn’t invent the category of product. They simply made it easy and marketed it properly. That’s not to say the iPad wasn’t a revolutionary product when it released. The combination of ease of use along with massive developer support helped make tablets a real possibility, not an also ran.
iOS is easy to navigate. You have app icons and well, you have app icons. Folders are nice but not really necessary. Customization is limited without jailbreaking. In fact, doing anything outside of Apple’s prescribed system is frowned upon. They control the experience and while it’s not for me, it made tablets accessible to millions who don’t want to deal with complicated setup and maintenance. Install approved apps, use said apps, done. It really is that simple. Yes, Apple decides what apps you can use but let’s face it, with the support they have, the average user can do pretty much anything they choose.
It is, however, the lack of customization that made me walk away from iOS and the iPad. Great device, don’t get me wrong. It’s simply not for me. The rigidity of the system means that even though the app store is packed with a ton of options, it didn’t do everything I wanted it to do.
After using an iPad I moved on to the Acer Iconia A500. Loved it! Loved it so much that after having to return it (wanted a tablet, needed a laptop), I’ve recently purchased a new one and won’t be giving it up. A lot of the experience with Android does come down to the hardware. I won’t review the Iconia here but suffice to say that it provided the hardware needed to let the OS come through.
Android is interesting as a tablet OS since it wasn’t really a tablet OS until recently. Google took a bit of time to get to 3.0 and manufacturers simply weren’t going to wait. They began using the phone OS on tablets and it was a bit wonky due to this fact. Now that most tablets are moving to 3.0 via updates, the OS is shining on the platform. One issue is a lack of apps however. Oh, the Android app store has thousands upon thousands of apps, but not a ton that will run well on a tablet. The bigger form factor makes phone apps look simply horrible if they don’t scale correctly.
What Android does correctly however is add some benefits such as more freedom to do what you want with your screens and the ability to allow developers to make certain changes. This translates into widgets and other screen enhancements that allow you to see certain information without actually opening an app. A small thing but something I loved when compared to iOS. As well, the Android notification system is tops among the tablets I’ve used. Notifications stay in the notification bar until you clear them. This feature requires jailbreak and a third party app on the iPad. The notifications don’t get in the way while at the same time sticking around so you don’t forget that you got an email in the time it took you to finish reading that article you were on.
Overall, Android has been my favorite tablet OS so far. Enough functionality to make the platform shine and (without root) easy enough to use that most people shouldn’t have an issue. It still has some issues but those are being ironed out and hopefully the OS will continue to grow and develop into something awesome.
Poor HP. WebOS is awesome. Such a lightweight and simple to use backbone to the HP Touchpad. So why is it my least favorite tablet OS? Simple. I couldn’t do half the stuff I could do on an iPad or Android tablet. This isn’t really WebOS’s fault as again, as a backbone to a platform it’s great. It’s the fact that apps don’t exist for WebOS that do for the others. Even the ones that are there are either slower or crippled in some way.
Example: I love reading on a tablet. The Kindle app for WebOS doesn’t allow sideloading of mobi (or any kind) of files. Since many of the books I read are either in my Calibre library or borrowed from the New York Library, I’m kinda hosed. The only other ereader app I found for the platform was so slow and hard to use that I gave up on it.
The lack of apps is what killed the Touchpad. What good is an awesome OS if nothing runs on it. Yes, there are a good number of apps in the WebOS market but most of them aren’t from the major players. I found one decent twitter app (Spaz HD), a single version of Angry Birds, and again, the ereader front is almost completely dead.
As far as usability of the tablet itself? A mostly enjoyable experience. I loved the home screen. Having the ability to have running apps right at your fingertips is great. Of course, this comes at the expense of not being able to put app icons or widgets on the home screen. The bar at the bottom would only allow me to place five icons. Great if you only ever use five apps but after that you’re heading into the full list to find things.
All that said, hopefully HP won’t fully kill off WebOS. Given the right amount of attention, it could be a fantastic option for people in search of a tablet device.
In the end, a tablet OS’s job is the same as a PC’s OS. Give the user a smooth experience and then get out of the way of the applications. All three of these OSes do a decent job at that. The one you choose for your tablet experience should really come down to what you want to do with your new toy. If you don’t mind being a bit locked down then the iPad is a great experience. Excellent hardware and the OS is snappy and responsive. If you want more freedom in what you do and want (to me) a more robust experience, find the Android tablet that’s right for you. I can even recommend WebOS if you can still find a Touchpad at the $99 price point. Totally worth it but understand that you won’t have the same options that iPad and Android owners do.
For me, Android is where it’s at now. While not as smooth as iOS, the added ability of widgets, the notification system and the fact that you have a choice of hardware are all features that add to the experience. Once you root, you have an even more powerful device.
The tablet landscape is continuing to develop and where it goes from there is anyone’s guess. iOS will become more Android-like and Android will continue to add features. Microsoft is working on Windows 8 which will more than likely run on tablets as well as PCs. This is the OS battleground of the 2010s and it’s just getting started. Options will only expand so enjoy it!