You're faced with a growing number of choices when it comes to tablet PCs, but before you decide on which specific tablet to buy, you have to choose whether you're going to get the iPad or an Android tablet or maybe a Windows tablet. Many people have made up their minds already on which operating system their tablet will run, but if you haven't yet or are just interested in a broad view how Apple, Google, and Microsoft are different (and alike), then this comparison is for you. This article, except for the added links and where noted, has been contributed by Roy Chomko, President of Adage Technologies, a web and application development firm.
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. [ed note: unless you use one of the productivity apps that help you run these programs remotely; see below.] 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 [ed. note: such as the hot Amazon Kindle Fire; see About's Google site for a comparison between the Kindle Fire, other Android tablets, and the iPad]). 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.