In 2010, we saw the arrival of the first new tablet OS since Windows 7 was launched in the form of iOS. Android showed up on some tablets as well, though the first tablet-specific Android iteration is still a few months away. That means 2011 is shaping up to be a year of showdowns and epic feature comparisons between all the new tablet operating systems set to hit the market, including Honeycomb, RIM’s QNX OS, WebOS, and MeeGo – all slated to make their tablet debuts in the next 6 months. Along with a probably upgrade to the iOS in 5.0, what does each of these operating systems need to do to succeed in a suddenly very crowded market?
Right now, the consumer market is booming. Children, college students, and 9-5ers are all clamouring for a new tablet to carry with them. But, the biggest market not yet invested in tablet computing is the enterprise field and that’s because of the lack of security on those devices. Android and iOS devices simply don’t have the necessary interface or tools needed to support a corporate system like RIM does. Whether the Playbook is the solution or not remains to be seen, but the tablet that pulls off a secure corporate environment first that is easy for IT departments to maintain will have a huge jumpstart.
Low Learning Curve
Of course, along with security, IT departments look for devices that are easy to pick up and use. We are still in a transitional generation – with many people in the workforce who did not grow up using computers. So, it is important that any new tablet OS be agile and easy to use. I don’t think we need to see an iPad clone, but we also need something more intuitive than the standard touch interface on Windows 7.
Unique Target User Base
I don’t know how many mass market devices can be supported in the tablet field. No one does. In personal computing, despite thousands of competitors, only two came out on top – Windows and Mac. Will we see the same very one sided race with tablets between iOS and Android? Or will the new OS options hitting the market target unique niches in which they can thrive – such as enterprise, creatives, or the youth set?
Strong First Party Interface
In 2010, the story behind Android and iOS often boiled down to who had more apps. But, in 2011 I think apps will start to take a back seat to the first party interface tools that come in the operating system. How does the manufacturer design the user experience and how effective are the free, built-in tools that make up the OS. We already know that no one can catch up to iOS or Android in terms of raw apps, and many companies have publically admitted they won’t try, so first party interface is vital to success.
Finally, the hardware. The fanciest, most attractive operating system in the world won’t mean a thing if the hardware running it fails. Toshiba launched a DOA tablet in 2010 that ran a perfectly effective copy of Android, but the device itself was riddled with issues, including poor implementation of some hardware based features in Android. Whether Playbook’s OS or the new Honeycomb edition of Android are good or not will matter a lot less if the devices on which they are being run cannot hold up to scrutiny.
You’ll notice I didn’t discuss Apps as a major feature. Like I said, no one will catch up to iOS and Android. With nearly half a million apps in the App Store and nearly 200,000 in the App Marketplace, it’s too big of a lead. However, that doesn’t mean a new or revamped operating system cannot come out and wow us with strong first party tools, a dedicated niche, and a powerful support system that will drive sales.