Thoughts on Three Tablet Operating Systems

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had installed an Alpha package (a term that means a pre-release version of software.  A beta release is a much more stable pre-release version that is being final tested for bugs) that allowed Android 2.3 Gingerbread to run on the HP TouchPad I purchased this summer.  So far, the Alpha package is running great, with only one issue: when the device goes to sleep after non-use, it completely shuts down the device, and it takes about 30 seconds to get it going again.  For now, I can live with that.

It has been wonderful to have the opportunity to have all three major tablet operating systems in my possession, because I can now speak from a position of experience with different OS devices rather than as just an iOS owner.  In the past, my comments about other OS systems have been based on limited interaction with various devices at places like Best Buy or the Microsoft Store.

Here are some “big” idea thoughts about the three major tablet operating systems:

If you are a musician and want to use your tablet for reading music, the iPad is your only viable choice.  I’ve looked in both the WebOS and Android app stores, and you won’t find a single app like forScore or UnrealBook.  Yes, there are PDF readers for WebOS and Android (e.g. Adobe Reader is available for both), and I imported a score I use daily on iOS into both other OSes.  The only PDF option for TouchPad is Adobe Reader, and it is slow and only scrolls up and down.  On Android, I’m using a 4:3 format HP TouchPad, when most Android tablets are in the 16:10 format.  16:10 means that Android devices are wider than the iPad, but shorter, making music significantly smaller on the screen.  Additionally, on the Alpha version of Android (2.3 Gingerbread), the score I imported was nearly illegible on the TouchPad’s screen.  This could be an issue with Adobe Reader, with Gingerbread, or the Alpha.

Additionally, if you want a number of music/music education related apps, iOS is your only choice.  Both WebOS and Android are lacking in apps for music and music education.  Google’s Android store is a bit frustrating, as it doesn’t separate tablet apps from non-tablet apps, and WebOS is slightly better.  In both cases, the number of tablet-friendly apps is limited.  Yes, there are music apps, such as pianos, metronomes, pitch pipes, and even my favorite iOS tuner (ClearTune) on Android.  But compared to the offerings and usefulness of iPad apps, there is no comparison.

I think the TouchPad failed because of WebOS.  When the TouchPad was introduced in July, the entire tech journalism industry declared that the TouchPad would be the first OS to compete with the iPad because of WebOS.   I now believe that WebOS was the reason the TouchPad was a failure.  At the time of the $99 fire sale, there was a rumor that staff at HP had iOS running on a TouchPad, and it worked better than WebOS on the TouchPad.  After installing Android–even an Alpha version–on a TouchPad, I believe that rumor.  I’ve found Android Gingerbread (2.3) to be faster than WebOS in nearly every comparable situation.  WebOS takes 4GB of space on the device.  Android takes 2GB.  Maybe HP just should have created an Android Tablet.

I think iOS is still the easiest tablet operating system to both use and understand.  I don’t say that just because I like Apple products, but because I have now worked with all three platforms.  I’d suggest the three-year-old test.  Can a three-year-old successfully use the operating system?  Although all three operating systems are touch-based, Android and WebOS require the use of screen buttons that are not required on an iOS device.  My three-year-old son has been able to operate any iOS device for more than a year and a half–without any training on the part of his mother or I.  At three-and-a-half years, WebOS and Android give him some difficulties.  You might think, “These operating systems aren’t intended for kids.”  This might be true–but I know plenty of adults–some of them teachers–who have the computer knowledge of a three-year-old.    They need a device that is easy to use and understand.  iOS wins that competition.

I know that both Android and WebOS are more customizable than iOS–and that some people prefer that ability–that’s great.  Run with that.  At the same time, you also need to learn how to customize that system, which may not be the best solution for all users.  Android seems to be a great OS, and WebOS showed promise, too.  I wish I could steal “live wallpapers” (Android) and “cards” (WebOS) for my iOS devices.  As iOS adds features, it runs the risk of becoming more difficult to use.  There’s a fine line between options and features and difficulty to use.

So if you’re going to buy a tablet for your personal use, what should you buy? If you want a tablet with a huge installation base, 4:3 format, and apps that are applicable for music education (especially sheet music readers), get an iPad.  If you want more customization, a growing app store, and 16:10 format–and don’t plan to use the tablet very much for music purposes–consider an Android tablet.  And if you can find a $99 HP TouchPad anywhere–buy it.  You’ll soon be able to put a stable version of Android on the tablet and use it with either the WebOS (less likely) or Android OS.


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