The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Conundrum

The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Conundrum

Mar 7, 2011

This past week, Apple announced the iPad 2, which should come as a shock to no one, unless you live under a rock, which actually isn’t a bad idea as I assume the rent is cheap there, no? Of course, it features a modified design, the obvious addition of a front-facing camera, as Apple absolutely loves FaceTime. There’s a rear-facing camera, in what is probably the one concession to competing Android tablets, even if you can only take 720p pictures with it, like the iPod touch 4th Generation. Inside you will find the new dual-core A5 chip to ensure those 3D games will look even better than ever and the battery life is thankfully still a relative eternity. The problem with the iPad 2 of course, is that it’s still an iOS device. Which makes it a lousy computer..

See, the thing with iOS is that Apple designed it to be focused on individual apps and less on file management. This means that doing anything actually important on the iPad is like pulling teeth, because everything is tied to an individual app. Actual files are relegated to their own apps, with very little access to them from the user’s end. Apple has allowed some access to uploading and downloading files directly to an app through iTunes, but iTunes is so unpleasant to use that it’s just more frustration, especially since there’s very little interaction between apps. I feel like with iOS, I have to find workarounds, find specific apps to do the things I want. The first app I suggest to anyone who buys an iPad is GoodReader, because of the fact that it’s one of the few ways to interact with actual files on iOS.

The limitations mean that the iPad really isn’t a computer replacement. I’ve used it far more for tweeting and gaming than anything ‘important’. It’s decent for typing notes on, because it turns on quicker, but the single-focus of iOS makes it a miserable computer. My netbook isn’t going to wither away any time soon, because of how iOS limits you. Considering that this is a device that costs $500, I feel like it should be more usable as an actual computer. As well, for all of Apple’s claims that it’s a post-PC device, it still is inevitably tethered to iTunes, a program so horrible that I believe it must be atonement for the sins of man.

On Android, uploading pictures and files to Dropbox is easy thanks to Android’s sharing features, and because Android isn’t afraid to let me get my hands a little dirty and play with actual files. On Android, if I want to upload a file to Dropbox, I just go to that file and share it to Dropbox. I can easily download anything from Dropbox to my phone, do whatever I want with it, and then easily upload it back to Dropbox, or copy it back to my computer through USB. If I want to send an attachment in an email, or upload a file via the web browser, I can actually do that easily from within those apps! And because of Android’s lesser restrictions, if I don’t like default apps like the email, phone, and SMS apps, I can change them. The Gmail app for Android is a million times better than the iOS email app, and I do not doubt that if Apple would allow competition on their default apps, then someone would be able to make a comparable high quality solution on there as well. Android makes me feel like I can actually do things, unlike iOS. An Android tablet computer might actually be able to replace my netbook for portable computing. It would suffer as a gaming system, but if I needed an actual tablet computer, I would definitely choose Android.

So, if Android tablets are theoretically just that much more useful than the iPad, why aren’t they dominating the market? Well, first off, remember the Cult of Apple. People obsess and worship Apple beyond its faults, and excuse their flaws. So, the iPad requiring separate $30 adapters for limited USB support and SD card access is excused. Defenders of the Apple faith like John Gruber like to dump on Android whenever an opportunity comes up, mocking its ‘openness’ and any phone or tablet that even dares provide an alternative to Apple’s iOS devices. It’s almost missing the point – Android is competing with iOS, but it isn’t trying to mimic iOS exactly. It works in different ways.

Of course, the Apple ethos are part of why the iPad is so successful. Because of how vertically integrated everything Apple sells is, and because Apple has been able to use the same chipset across all their devices, it’s why the iPad was able to have an entry cost of $500 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model. Competing tablets are either underpowered, utilizing lesser hardware and even, shudder the thought, resistive touch screens that require styluses to use. Tablets like the Galaxy Tab that are in the relative price range of the iPad are undersized, and while the smaller tablet has some uses, I can’t imagine people seeing the iPad and the Galaxy Tab next to each other and thinking, “Yeah, I’d rather have the smaller, less aesthetically pleasing one.” Other competing tablets that can match the iPad pound for pound are extremely expensive – the XOOM runs $800, and impressive as it may be, and comparable to a 3G-equipped 32GB iPad being $730, the $500 entry price for the iPad sticks in people’s minds – and there was much mockery of its price point. Android tablet manufacturers will be hard-pressed to compete with Apple’s marketing department both official and unofficial, and hardware design both internal and external, as they have been challenged on the phone side, and haven’t even put up a fight on the media player side.

If Android tablets are going to succeed, it’s likely going to be through the business sector that will find them more useful than the iPad, especially as mobile computing solutions. Right now, the iPad is hard to use as more than just a good entertainment device (the App Store is light years ahead of the Android Market when it comes to gaming, for a variety of reasons I will talk about soon), with the occasional usefulness. I did type this article up on an iPad, using an external keyboard, so call me hypocritical if you want; sometimes the single focus usage that iPad provides is a benefit, especially when you have a microscopic attention span like I do. However, I will not be polishing this article and submitting it on my iPad because of its limitations.

All I know is that if Android tablets were actually viable solutions, I could do just that, and I wouldn’t have to feel like this $300 netbook of mine is still a requirement to actually do ‘important’ things. Tablet computing needs to mature, and I fear that iOS and iPad will only stunt its growth. It’s just silly to think, that when someone joked that Apple should release an iPad with Android on it, I found myself legitimately wanting that or a dual-boot solution. My iPad would be much more useful to me if it had Android on it, which seems silly since I know the hardware is capable – but our Apple overlords won’t let us do everything we want and that’s just the way the numerous sycophants have been led to believe they want it.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
Connect with Carter Dotson // email // www
  • Android Market doesn’t permit developers from my country to sell app. From what I understand the only chance to make some profit is to place ads in my application.