Right now, when talking about tablet computers and their functionality, we usually discuss apps and how they expand the platform. Apple and Android devices alike access massive app stores that offer third party developers chances to offer dozens more tools that don’t come with the device naturally. In fact, for some manufacturers, the allure of the Android App store has made (or broken) their devices.
But, for those interested in more powerful applications or for specific enterprise functionality, Apps don’t always get the job done, at least not right out of the box. The iPad for example has been available for the better part of 8 months and is still gaining functions that its original users have long wanted, and almost all of them rely one or more third party apps.
Android tablets are now in the same place as Apple when its device was first launched. There are more than a hundred thousand apps available on the Android Marketplace, but they are almost all exclusively developed for smart phones. The resolution is lower and interfaces are designed for smaller screens, but with time that will change as the Android Marketplace share for tablet PCs continues to grow.
I’m largely restating the obvious though. What exactly should apps provide that the OS does not and does every passing week make it that much harder for anyone not named Apple or Google to provide a viable operating system for a tablet?
To start with, it depends on your perspective on touch screen computing. For many users, tablet PCs should come with native touch applications. And because those apps can be single access tools with low development costs, it’s not surprising that App stores are thriving. But, that doesn’t mean the Windows model won’t continue to work.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more robust advancements to the Windows operating system for touch computing, especially as Windows 8 grows in development between now and 2012. But, even with the current iteration of Windows 7 on a tablet (which I think works great), combined with third party tools like Thinix, you still need applications.
Office is good, as are a number of standard third party tools for Windows, but for a device to be truly effective as a tablet, it needs to be optimized for touch – not the on-the-fly OS tools used to interpret touch input as standard input. Devices like the TegaV2 are attractive for this very reason – the opportunity for dual OS operation (Android and Windows 7) gives owners both options.
If Apple didn’t have such an exclusionary policy about how apps are developed and approved in the App store, I think this conversion would be a lot more interesting. As it is, however, developers are essentially forced to develop iPad versions of their software first, then explore Android alternatives before looking into third party app stores. How will other devices like RIM’s PlayBook or rumoured Nokia devices compete? It remains to be seen, but the App model isn’t going anywhere any time soon.