by Christopher Tippins for the Software Synergy Group
I’m going to start this article by saying that I look at gadgets (tablets in this case) as well as the operating systems that run them as tools.
A tool is designed to do a particular job (or jobs). Whether or not that particular tool is suitable to the task at hand depends on several factors. I’m going to attempt to explore this topic by looking at a few key differences between these two operating systems and their respective environments.
Let’s talk about tablets in general for starters. What exactly is a tablet?
A tablet , to put it simply, is a slate-like mobile computing device typically with a touch screen used for input.
For some people, they will find that the Android OS based tablets are a better tool than the Apple iPad.
Others (and probably many) people will find that the iPad is better suited to the task.
In fact, depending on what your needs are and how much you enjoy “getting under the hood”, an iPad might very well be better suited to being your tablet of choice. I’ll talk about specifics of exactly why I feel this way throughout this article.
Personally, I’ve come to love the Asus Transformer and I’ll get into the reasons for that, too, as I go through this article. I have worked with the iPad and also own an iPhone 4 and enjoy the iOS (5) environment as well.
Let’s talk a bit more about tablets in general and what this particular tool is designed to do.
Some people will erroneously conclude that tablets are productivity tools.
They are not.
It’s a device designed to serve up media – in other words – it’s consumptive. You consume “things” on it (namely books, video, music, photos, web sites, email, etc.).
If your goal is to produce or be productive, you’d be better served by looking at a netbook or a laptop. This doesn’t mean you can’t use a tablet to answer emails or use it to perform simple productivity tasks, but beyond this you’re going to want a device that’s designed for that task.
Some will argue this point especially considering that the Asus Transformer can be purchased with a keyboard specifically designed to dock with the tablet. While this helps to bridge the gap between a tablet and a netbook or laptop, I’d be hard pressed to give up my netbook (and, of course, my primary Windows 7 workstation) to do actual work on this tablet.
What the keyboard will give you is better functionality and more options, but unless your computing life consists solely of answering a few emails now and then it will not replace a full Windows OS based device.
Why? Simply because you cannot perform the same kind of tasks on a tablet that you can with a netbook or laptop.
You certainly can answer, create and edit emails, browse the web and even write up simple documents using applications like Documents to Go or Polaris, but unless you’re just creating simple memos and that sort of thing, you’re going to find these types of applications sorely lacking compared to what you can do on a Windows based machine.
What about more advanced tasks like accounting and / or graphics and music editing?
Again, the tablet environment isn’t designed for that. Sure, you can listen to music and you can view photos and yes, you can even use applications that are designed for time and expense input, for example, but there are no full-fledged counterparts for the tablet environment that come close to their Windows counterparts (although applications do exist for these types of tasks).
What a tablet can do, however, is offer up a reasonably good viewing experience of let’s say, Word and Excel documents and PowerPoint presentations. It doesn’t mean you can’t edit “on the road”, so to speak, but believe me when I tell you this is not something you are going to want to do on a regular basis.
So this distinction is important to understand before you consider the tablet environment.
Let’s also talk about costs. I paid approximately $450.00 dollars for the Asus Transformer (32 GB version) which wasn’t a bad price for this tablet when I purchased it about 4 months ago (it’s selling for $495.00 now as I write this). Add another $150.00 for the keyboard and you’re at the $600.00 mark.
The iPad 2 (32 GB) is selling for $599.00 as I write this article (this price doesn’t include a keyboard, by the way).
This is a price point that well exceeds the cost of a capable netbook or some low end laptops.
So it would behoove you to carefully consider exactly what your needs are before you plunk down your hard earned cash on a tablet. It’s not a replacement or a fill in for a Windows based device.
In my case here are the reasons why I opted for a tablet even though I’ve already got a netbook, a laptop, a primary high end Windows 7 workstation and an iPhone. You would think having those devices would serve just about any need I have.
Not quite the case:
I wanted a device to serve up media – namely movies, books, photos and magazines in a form factor large enough where I could actually read it (my iPhone falls way short on this).
Another prerequisite was that the device be inherently more portable then either my netbook or laptop.
Because one of my primary considerations is ease of use coupled with speed to get to my media. For example, when I go to bed I want a device I can pick up to read that doesn’t take much longer to “open” then the comparable hard copy book (read as instantly “on” or very short boot up time).
I also wanted a device that could serve as a portfolio for my photographic work.
I also wanted an easily portable device that I can use to watch films – either those that live on my DLNA media server or from a service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The Asus Transformer easily and capably serves up all of these types of media far better than my netbook ever could.
Why do I say that?
For starters, I don’t have to wait for a Windows boot up. I turn it on and it’s ready to go.
Arguably, of course, I could use a netbook to perform all of those tasks, but I’d have to boot it up, and keep it charged all the time and have to deal with the keyboard being in the way all the time. I’ve tried doing that in the past and found that it’s too much work and bother.
The bottom line is that a tablet far surpasses a netbook for these types of tasks both in size and form factor.
(I’ll digress for a moment as Asus has recently come out with a new Transformer called the Prime. That is not the device I own. Click here to see the device I purchased and click here to see the new Prime.)
I personally think the Transformer is the best Android device out there, but if you’re thinking of buying one today I’d strongly consider the older model like I have as opposed to the Prime.
There have been some problems with the GPS acquiring a signal (the word on the street as I write this is that some of these problems have been worked out but because of the metal case they may not entirely be resolved – this remains to be seen.)
Also, Asus has decided to lock and encrypt the bootloader on the new Primes (update: Asus has announced they will offer a way to unlock the boatloader since this article was written. This is not doable yet, but it will be an option available in the near future. )
What does this mean?
One of the primary reasons people choose the Android OS over Apple iOS is because of the ability to update, modify and entirely replace the stock firmware that comes on the device. By being able to do this, you can entirely customize the user experience on your device adding increased functionally, stability and the ability to do much more then you can without this extremely important feature.
This is not something you cannot do on an iPad. In fact, it’s why many people do not want anything to do with an iPad or Apple.
I have written several other articles on customizing the Android environment so I’m not going to talk about the specifics of how this is done, but you can read all about it and see detailed information on how to go about it by clicking here.
The ability to fully customize the Android environment is perhaps the most important reason as to why people choose Android over iOS.
So (getting back to the Transformer Prime) without the ability to get to and modify the bootloader, it’s going to limit what you can and cannot do (or at least make it more difficult).
Note and update: As of this writing, “rooting” and installing new ROM’s on the Asus Prime is now something that can be accomplished so the encrypted boot loader issue may become a non issue entirely.
The Android operating system and the devices that run it are open source – meaning anyone can write apps for it and they do not have to go through the approval process to make it to market. Apple, on the other hand, very tightly controls what you can and what you cannot install on your iOS devices.
There are pluses and minuses for both scenarios and environments. The plus side to having an open source environment and the number one reason why I chose Android over iOS is that I have many more options to choose from as far as what I can install on it and what I can do with it.
For example, I’m running a DLNA media server on my primary Windows 7 machine. It acts to serve up media and film. Not only can I watch those films on my Blu Ray player and HDTV, but I can also access that server wirelessly via my Android (and over the Internet, but I haven’t gotten around to setting this up yet).
Can you do this on an iPad?
Nope. Not a chance.
Why not, you might rightfully ask…
Primarily because Apple doesn’t want you to.
Apple sells Apple TV. Apple wants you to buy Apple products. Apple has said “no” to playing nice with other kids on the media serving block (such as DLNA). For that reason alone I say no to Apple.
There’s another side to this, however, and it’s something you need to carefully consider:
I am, by nature, a gadget person. I tinker with gadgets and OS’s and applications all day and night long. I always have. I love it. It’s not only challenging, but it’s highly rewarding (when it comes together and works).
Regarding DLNA and what it took to get this to work on an Android: I’m not going to get into tremendous depth on this, but in a nutshell the process went like this:
- Get a DLNA server up and running on my Windows 7 box. Accomplished but after running into some pretty serious problems with Windows Live Essentials products which I ultimately had to remove. Tedious and somewhat time consuming to get that worked out.
- Get the issues worked out between the DLNA media server and my LG Blu Ray player (firmware upgrades, etc.) Also tedious.
- On the Android it involved finding not only an app that could read .avi and .mkv files, but also finding an app that could serve as a front end to this type of media to handle the codecs and rendering of same. That app is Bubble UPnP and it does a great job of this.
- Then I needed to find an app that could play these various types of codecs and formats that the movies were in. That app is VPlayer. It plays .ts, .avi, .mkv and just about anything else I’ve tossed at it.
In addition to these steps, I’ve encountered some problems when I’ve either upgraded the Android version on my Transformer or when the app developers have upgraded their software. In fact, as I write this, VPlayer put out a new rev and since I’ve run this Google has put out a new rev of Android so I updated both and found I had to do complete reinstalls of Bubble UPnP and VPlayer in order to get it to work. These processes are time consuming.
You may be saying to yourself at this point “You mean I’ve got to learn how to do all that stuff simply to watch movies on my Android device?”
The Android Market makes available a plethora of media that you can simply download and access with the resident apps that come with the Transformer (and other Android devices). You can rent or purchase and download movies, music, books, etc. all by a click of the mouse (or with a tablet, actually, a tap of the screen). This will effectively give you the same options you’d get in the Apple iOS environment.
The longer answer is this: if you really want to customize your experience and tweak this device to make it do cartwheels in the media serving environment you most assuredly can.
Apple can argue (rightfully so) that their customer experiences are pleasant and customer satisfaction is high and this is a case in point to support these conclusions.
As a final counterpoint, I can also argue that it sure is nice being able to tap into my DLNA media server – access my data on any of the devices I’ve got running in the house – and I’m not tied to having to buy an Apple branded device to do it.
You alone need to decide which world you want to live in.
Android, the way I see it, gives me the best of both worlds.
Perhaps the simplest way to look at these two operating systems is the following statement:
You can do more with an Android OS based device but you’re going to need to work to get there. If simplicity is your goal with some loss of functionality and customization potential, then Apple iOS is probably your best bet.
I hope the example above illustrates the flexibility of the Android operating system and why you might want to consider it over Apple’s iOS. On the flip side you might be thinking “thanks but no thanks, I’ll just stick with what Apple iOS will give me” which is an entirely plausible point of view as well.
As I’ve mentioned above, you can dig deeper further still into the Android OS via customizable firmware and ROM’s to do even more. I’ll be writing much more about this as well as presenting an article on my favorite Android applications later in this series.
I’ll close by saying this: whether you choose an iPad or an Android tablet, I think you’ll come to love the tablet environment.
It has revolutionized the way I read, for example:
I no longer buy magazines as hard copy.
I no longer buy books in print.
I haven’t rented or purchased a movie on plastic in ages. (Also nice is that if I want to watch a movie at night be it on Netflix, Amazon Prime or my own server, I can plug in some headphones and I don’t disturb my girlfriend from sound blaring from the TV.)
When I want to exhibit my photographic work, it displays beautifully on the tablet.
In summary, I believe that the tablet environment has finally matured to the point where it is a viable medium to handle these tasks and so much more. See the other articles in this series here for more information.
Christopher Tippins for the Software Synergy Group