Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why the iPad is better than any Android Tablet

When the Apple iPad first came out I was ambivalent about how useful a tablet PC would be. I already had a touch screen smartphone and the iPad apeared to be not much more than a larger phone. However, as time has gone by I have become more aware of people using iPads usefully in business for presentations, document viewing at meetings, typing notes and keeping up with business Twitter accounts. In home life I have used a friends iPad to view a rented movie, shop online and play music from iTunes.

The iPad’s battery life is extremely good with 10 hours or more possible and it is very light. This takes it beyond a laptop and into a multipurpose device I could see myself carrying it back and forth to work for reading documents, viewing videos, listening to music or keeping up with my basic word processing needs. Other than music playing, these are all things that my mobile phone does not do particularly well because of the screen size and keyboard restrictions. My laptop can do them, and a netbook could too, but the netbook screen size and quality is not as useful as the iPad.

Having used an iPad I can see the pluses and minuses.

First the minuses:

Lack of Flash player
Regardless of what apple says about Flash, the lack of it means you can only access the BBC iPlayer and YouTube via applications which use other versions of the original files. You do not get the full web experience. We7 on demand streaming is not available without a paid account as the as supported version requires flash. Many web sites are not fully functional or more difficult to use without flash. My Android phone handles Flash perfectly well so I am left with the nagging suspicion that the lack of flash is more to do with the current patent war between smart phone manufacturers than any real technical or usability issues.  The silliest argument used by Apple against Flash is that it is not open source, ignoring the fact that their own software is all proprietary.

Lack of tabbed browser
Safari works well, but new sites visited create new windows. Navigation would be a lot easier with a tabbed browser like Chrome or Firefox. I have not explored alternatives to Safari. There may be a solution to this.

Lack of front mounted camera on the iPad 1
The original iPad has no front mounted camera making it useless for any video conferencing applications and severely limiting its usefulness for business purposes. The iPad 2 does have a front mounted camera, but as Apple were developing Facetime at the same time as the iPad it is nonsensical that the iPad did not have a front camera at its launch. This is more unforgiveable than the lack of flash because it was an in-house Apple issue.

Lack of USB or SD card socket
The iPad loks like a photo frame, but to view your photos you will be stung £25 for a “camera connectivity kit” which provides SD and a USB socket. In spite of this the USB socket will not allow the use of USB memory sticks because the power supplied by the iPad is too low. This seems like a deliberate way of forcing you to pay £100 for a version with more memory.

Micro SIM card
I have an old Vodafone PAYG sim card with bandwidth that never expires. At £10 per GB its a very cheap way to connect to the internet. I thought I could use this in the iPad, but it uses a “Micro Sim” card which is smaller and has additional onboard memory. There are a few online articles showing you how to cut down a full size SIM card to fit an iPad, but its not clear if the iPad 2 looks for the SIM card’s memory for any purposes and cutting the card down will mean it can’t be used in my old Vodafone dongle. Some mobile phone companies will issue a replacement SIM card, but there is now way Vodafone will do this for one of the old style data cards that they make little money from.

No GPS on the Wi-Fi only version
Given the Micro SIM issue ,the Wi-Fi only iPad would seem to suit me because my HTC phone is on a large bandwidth contract and a built in wifi hotspot. However, Apple decided to not fit a GPS receiver to the wi-fi only version which means there is no accurate location positioning (although approximate is available using wi-fi SSID’s and other information). They envisaged it as something you would use at home with truly mobile users choosing the 3g version. The other reason was that the 3g chipset used is the same as in the iPhone and it contains the GPS receiver, so adding GPS to the wi-fi version would have required extra development time.

Now the pluses:

Uniformity of hardware
Android tablets come in a variety of qualities, from the very cheap ones with resistive screens, to ones like the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 which have lovely high definition capacitive screens. This means that developers do not know exactly what hardware they are building for so end user experience will be variable. This is the same disadvantage that Microsoft have over Apple with desktop and laptop systems. Apple control the hardware specification so they can predict how their software will behave. Microsoft have to make software that will work on an huge variety of hardware and peripherals. A visit to the Android Marketplace will show the same problem with variable performance of apps on the different available handsets. With the iPad, Apple have a stable, high performance platform through which they can guarantee to deliver a good end user experience.

Availability of accessories
The Samsung tablets may be very well made, high performance devices, but try buying a case or a keyboard docking station. Its not going to be as easy or as well executed as the accessories available from Apple.

Quality of construction
The iPad is a very well made piece of equipment with a lot of thought having gone into things like the speakers (better than I would have expected) an the onscreen keyboard (which has a very positive action and is actually type-able on).

However there is one reason why the iPad is better than ANY Android tablet and it is nothing to do with the comparative quality of the devices.

Availability of services
The iPad has iTunes. This means you can download music, rent movies and buy apps very simply through an integrated system. It also has iCloud which allows music to be accessible from other devices and keeps it securely backed up. There is no integrated equivalent for Android tablets and there is unlikely to be because of the lack of uniformity of hardware.

This was the reason that the iPod beat all other MP3 players. There were lots of very good MP3 players around before the iPod, but the  iTunes software made it easy to synchronise the device and buy music. Similarly the iPad is a good video playing device, but it is also easy to get video onto. The same with music ebooks and apps.

The iPad works. It might have its limitations, but they are well managed and it will not disappoint.