Tablet Clone Wars: 4 Questions

Lenovo joins the growing ranks of combatants trying to beat Apple's iPad 2. Before you pledge allegiance to any one tablet, consider these key questions.

Fritz Nelson, Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

July 21, 2011

5 Min Read

3.) If you had to buy a tablet today, which one should you buy? (And what's the right size?)

This question comes up constantly, and the answer is easy (though some people don't want to hear it): the iPad 2. There's none better. I'm sorry, but I don't want to use my tablet to take pictures or movies, so I don't care if the rear-facing camera isn't good enough. I use DropBox and Box.Net and Google Docs and SugarSync, and getting files onto and off the iPad has never been a challenge for me. I don't miss direct access to the file system.

The iPad 2 isn't perfect. It doesn't render websites as well as other tablets do, and it obviously doesn't support Flash, and yet none of those shortcomings has hindered me from turning to the iPad time and again.

How often have you seen someone at the mall or grocery store or park with an iPad, checking off lists, reading, tossing it into the car? Now how often have you seen someone with a tablet other than an iPad? Not often, I'm guessing. I travel constantly, and only once have I seen someone on an airplane with an Android tablet.

Most tablets come in something close to 10-inch or 7-inch configurations. There are exceptions, but for the most part people are deciding on big or small, not something in between. I've used both the BlackBerry PlayBook and HTC EVO View 4G (7-inch devices), and while each is a bit too heavy for the size, when they slim down I can see people liking that size, as the tablet is big enough but can also fit in one hand. That form factor may actually benefit from adding phone capabilities.

4.) Who is capable of unseating, or at least challenging, Apple?

Plenty. I think the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the Android equivalent of the iPad 2, but the sub-par Android experience and ecosystem (and now poor application vetting) get in the way. The tablets from RIM and HP show promise, but the apps aren't there.

Tablet choice for now comes down to a few basic elements.

First, the applications. Much of the day-to-day tablet use will likely be in the web browser and on email, but the appeal of having nearly any app for anything is hard to resist. It's all there in the Apple App Store. Hundreds of thousands of them. It's what developers write to first. Apple's email client is fantastic, and it gets even better with iOS 5 this fall. The Safari browser on the iPad 2 is very easy to use, but it's far from the best tablet browser out there. Apple is vulnerable there.

Watch the following video for a quick comparison of email and browser clients.

A second big distinction is user interface. The iPad UI is comfortable, and some of its annoying aspects (notifications) will be fixed in iOS 5. But Google's Honeycomb has some really nice features, like the universal back button and a tab that shows all of your latest running apps. It handles notifications well in its notifications bar, where you can not only see a quick status, but also by tapping on it you can bring up some of your messages and, from there, begin taking action on them.

The BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad user experiences are my favorite. They work largely the same way, with a card-based metaphor that's a useful way to interact with applications. HP has taken some of the UI functions further than RIM has--for example, the TouchPad lets you stack cards from different applications. HP's notifications are slightly better, and both tablets' operating systems handle multitasking nicely. The TouchPad comes with native email; the PlayBook doesn't.

See the following video for a comparison of some of the user interfaces.

Also, see a complete tour of the HP TouchPad in the following video.

5.) Here's a bonus. What should you want in a tablet?

I would argue a few of these points with my colleague Art Wittmann, but the specifications he outlines in The Ultimate Business Pad Defined still ring true.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

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