Tablet Operating Systems

Gary from North Carolina writes:

I am shopping for my first tablet & don’t really know what I am looking for. Could you please elaborate on the different operating systems?

Sure Gary, the two major players in the tablet operating system game are Android, with 62% of the tablet market and Apple’s iOS with 32.5% of the market. That is a complete turn around from a year ago when Apple held 60% of the market and Android 38%. Microsoft’s Windows is trying to get into the tablet game, though they accounted for only 4.5% of tablets.

Let’s take a look at your options.


iPad and iPad Mini. Apple dominated the tablet sales with the iPad until just recently and the iPad has a lot going for it. It’s available in a 9.7 inch display size and as an iPad mini with 7.9 inch screen. The iPad 2 starts at $399 for the Wi-Fi only model with 16 GB of storage or at $529 for the 16GB model that can access both WiFi and 3G.

The iPad with Retina display starts at $499 and can cost you as much as $929 for the 128 GB model with WiFi and cellular access. These models weigh about 1 1/2 lbs each. 

The iPad Mini starts at $329 and weighs a little over 8 ounces.

All of these models can be used for surfing the Internet, checking e-mail, playing games, taking photos and videos, listening to music and watching videos.  iPad tablets use programs called applications or “apps.” Apple devices can only run apps purchased through the Apple App Store. Android and Windows apps will not work on an iPad, just as iPad apps will not function on those devices.  You’ll purchase apps, music, books and videos for your iPad through iTunes.  There are over 375,000 iPad apps available and many of them are free. The apps run from games to office productivity software.

 Tablets using the Apple iOS are manufactured only by Apple and only sold through their authorized dealers. You will see almost no variation in price for these devices. They sell at Apple’s set price.

Android Tablets

The Android operating system is an open one. Any tablet manufacturer can take Android and customize it for their device. Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook are examples of heavily customized versions of Android. Android tablets come from multiple manufacturers. In fact, the most popular model of Android is the generic Android tablet with no name-brand manufacturer listed.

Android tablets run from 4 inch displays to 22″ displays, with the most popular sizes being  7″ or 9 to 10″ models.  With a quick look around the Internet, I was able to find more than 50 manufacturers of Android tablets. There are a wide variety of sizes and features to choose from. The amount to storage space and whether you have only Wif-Fi or Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity will depend on the manufacturer.  Your storage capacity cold run from 1GB to 120GB depending on the model. It’s important to check out the specifications for the particular model you’re thinking about buying.

Android tablets do have the price advantage over iPads. We’ve offered models starting around the $100 range and you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a decent Android tablet for less than the starting cost of the iPad mini.

An Android tablet will perform all of the functions of an iPad. These devices can be used for surfing the Internet, checking e-mail, playing games, taking photos and videos (if the device has a camera. Since Android models very, check the specifications), listening to music and watching videos. Apps for everything to games to word processing can be found in the Google Play Store.  There are over a million apps available and many of them are free.

 The Amazon Kindle, is also an Android tablet. However, you are limited to purchasing your apps through the Kindle App store and you won’t find as large a variety of apps available.  If you’re thinking about a tablet for use as an eReader, remember you can download Kindle and Nook apps for both Android and iOS, and read eBooks purchased from those sites on either device.

Windows Tablet

Neither an Android or an iPad tablet will run programs designed for a PC. You can buy apps that perform some of the same functions, but if you want to run actual Windows programs, a Windows Tablet is your only choice.

There are two types of Windows Tablets – ones that run full versions of Windows 8 and those that run Windows RT.  Windows RT is sort of Windows 8 light and hasn’t proved to be particularly popular. It accounts for less than 1% of tablet sales. Windows RT tablets are usually available with 9″ displays and start around  $330. Tablets that run full versions of Windows 8 and are fully-functional PC’s like the Surface Pro will likely run you $700 and up. A Surface Pro weighs in around two pounds.

The downside to a Windows tablet, is that while they work great as PCs, they don’t have a whole lot to offer in the way of Apps. The Windows App store has only recently passed the 100,000 app milestone and is still missing many popular apps.

 ~ Cynthia


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