Thursday, October 28, 2010

What’s in a Tablet OS?

Right now, with a slew of new tablet releases making headlines around the globe, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the TegaV2, as well as a number of still planned releases from netbook giants Acer and MSI, the bulk of discussion has been about how this new consumer demand will play out over the next five years or so.

And while the hardware being manufactured is increasingly powerful, allowing people to do things never before possible with mobile devices, I’m interested in what an effective tablet OS really looks like. Can a tablet be truly effective for enterprise users, or even advanced household users, if it’s just a ramped up version of an OS developed for mobile phones.

The iOS is a perfect example – a software system that, while deemed restrictive by many iPhone users, still provides a decent user experience, and yet on a tablet seems much more stifling. But, there are more than just “closed OS” issues on the tablet market right now. Recent issues have developed with the open model used by Google for their Android OS.

Since Android is available for licensing and free use for any manufacturer that meets technical requirements with their devices, the OS is appearing on a wide array of devices – including advanced devices like the Galaxy Tab and extremely budget devices like the GenTouch Latte being sold for less than $200.

But, most consumers don’t know the difference between the different versions of Android, leading to issues between Google and manufacturers when devices make it appear that users will have access to the Android Marketplace and clearly do not.

What Should an OS Offer?

So, the big question now is what an OS needs to offer to be effective for a tablet device. What does a tablet need that a smart phone does not? To start with, it should be flexible. It should allow users to type naturally, input data manually (with or without stylus) and access the same software they are used to using on their desktop.

The iOS does not do these things and right now Android is working on it. With Gingerbread recently announced and a handful of tablets on tap from Motorola and Acer this November or December, we will soon see how the 3.0 OS from Google handles more advanced applications. Of course, we must remember that this is still an OS developed first and foremost for phones and while tablets are becoming more common and are likely figuring into the equation, Google knows where the demand is at the moment.

So, what is the solution? Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows just yet. For me, having access to advanced applications through Windows is a must on a tablet, and software like Thinix can make it more intuitive on a touch screen. It remains to be seen how the new RIM operating system will handle the PlayBook or how Gingerbread will perform, but we know one thing for sure – tablets are becoming more mainstream and whether these OS developers realize it or not, their software will need to cater to more than just casual users and entertainment apps in the very near future if they want to remain successful. 

Interestingly one solution that is sparking interest comes from Tegatech in the newly released TEGA v2. It is the first Tablet in the world to offer both Windows 7 and Android in one device. It's called “dual-boot” and while it's not quite perfect, it provides a solution for many users. On the Windows side users have access to all their preferred Microsoft Applications, and on the Android side battery life is optimized and the touch experience enhanced through Android. Again I don’t know if this is the perfect choice but it sure opens the TEGA v2 to a breadth of usage scenarios not available prior to its release. 

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