When Moses stepped off the mountain, he allegedly carried two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Had he waited a few thousand years, he could have had the entire Holy Bible, the Quran, the Tripitaka, the Hindu Vedas and Tantras, and the Torah all on a mobile tablet! While we don’t chisel writing into stone these days, the miracle of the tablet computer is still nonetheless undeniable. The latest results are in; both home and business users are increasingly adopting the devices as their main mobile computing platform. So let’s take a look at the evolution of the tablet computer, the various options that are available, and what we have to look forward to.
I actually remember going to the movie theater in 1969 with my mom to see Stanley Kubrick’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” and marveling at the cool gadgets like the NewsPad. This device, now over four decades old, was an early concept piece that really did resemble the devices we use today. The first iteration of that early device was a tablet style PC created by Microsoft in the early 2000s though the true tablet explosion didn’t really occur until 2010. The first tablet came on the market with a reasonable price point and the Apple name behind it. Thus, the iPad stormed the beaches of retail and started showing up in homes all over the world. The device became the go-to choice for consumers and businesses users for over a year. Then in late 2011, a phenomenon swept the consumer marketplace as the Amazon Kindle Fire was introduced with an even better price point and perfectly positioned for the 2011 holiday season. With consumer interest peaking, it was easy to see that business users wouldn’t be far behind.
2012 brought the expectation that businesses of all shapes and sizes would incorporate tablet devices into everyday work environments, and some movement in that direction did follow as tablet computing made sense for businesses that had field employees who needed a safe, secure, and simple way to enter data and perform routine tasks. However, deploying a host of Apple devices on a Windows-centric network was not an ideal solution for those SMB organizations with limited IT staff, experience, or knowledge. The competition really began when Google entered the fray with the Nexus tablet geared specifically for business.
In the second half of 2012 industry giant Microsoft made a move that changed everything. Rumor became fact in July at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto when CEO Steve Ballmer announced the impending release of the new Windows 8 operating system. This was a huge move in that this new OS was driven by a touch-enabled component. It was obvious that Microsoft was taking a swipe at the tablet marketplace looking for a piece of an ever-growing pie, but no one expected just how serious Microsoft was about getting more than a foothold. At that same event, Ballmer unveiled the Microsoft Surface tablet powered by Windows 8 and it was sure to rock the market. Since Microsoft delivered a device without the traditional partnership with an OEM manufacturer, there appeared to be a sense of urgency to compete and win. Even though it took several months for Surface to be ready for mass-market purchases, the anticipation and curiosity amongst both Microsoft fans and detractors was palpable. When reviews started coming in, there was a wide range of opinions on Surface’s operability, ease of integration, and “cool factor.” With the release of Surface Pro expected in early 2013, Microsoft appeared ready to finally do battle with the iPad and the Nexus for SMB supremacy.
That brings us to the inevitable question of, which tablet option is the best? Well, it’s really not about which tablet is the best but rather which tablet is the best fit for your needs. There are definitely some things to consider and important questions to ask when deciding on a tablet solution for your organization. While the Apple iPad has had a head start in terms of market penetration, does that mean it’s the right choice? The Google Nexus and its Android-powered brethren have the advantage of an inexpensive price point, but do they have all the bells and whistles or the reliability to be counted on in commercial applications? Does Microsoft’s Surface work well enough and seamlessly enough with business networks to justify the higher cost? Obviously there are pros and cons for each device, and each needs to be fully evaluated before any tablet implementation.
Looking first at the incumbent, Apple created a pretty tough competitor in the iPad. Now in its fourth generation, the iPad has been adopted by children using learning applications and business users employing unlimited commercial applications. One of the hallmarks of the Apple mindset has always focused on ease of use, and users often report that this is one of the main reasons they are so happy with it.The current iPad boasts a retina display which consists of a 9.7 inch LED-backlit multi-touch display which is about double that of the previous version. A skinny device at just about a third of an inch thick, the newest version gives you plenty of connectivity choices, too. Storage size affects the price significantly from the 16 GB option with WiFi to the beefy 128 GB option with both WiFi and cellular data connectivity. The iPad has a dual core ARM-based processor with quad core graphics which really lights up the Retina display much better than the previous ASX chip. Other notable features include a quick A6X processor, improved boot up time from 27 seconds to 16 seconds, and the robust selection of applications in the Apple iTunes store. It’s a bit on the heavy side compared to the competition, but not dense enough to make it undesirable. It has a nice camera complete with the FaceTime application preloaded for video calls. Currently, the iPad is the unquestioned leader in the field.
The second device in the lineup is the Google Nexus 10. This device is the most popular being widely accepted both by consumers and business users and is manufactured by leading smartphone maker Samsung. The Nexus 10 gives Google a major play in the tablet space. One of the main advantages of the newest Nexus model is a budget friendly option starting at a mere $399 retail price point. Running on the Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” operating system and sporting a 10 inch HD Gorilla glass display, it looks good and performs well. Storage space ranges from 16 GB to 32 GB and is much less than the top end iPad. Nexus 10 leverages multi-user capabilities with customized user screens and accounts for each person and enhanced WiFi to great advantage. The ARM based processor is plenty speedy with 2 MB of RAM, and the machine is thin and light. Of course, it is designed for use with the myriad of Google adjuncts with lots of available downloads from the Google Play store (not as many as the iTune store, but growing), video chats with Google Hangouts, the lean and mean Google Chrome Internet browser, and seamless integration with cloud-based Google applications. It’s still unclear if the Nexus 10 is low-touch integration with Google Apps for business, but more than likely requires some effort to get there.
The third contender, Microsoft Surface, entered the fray late in 2012. The Surface tablets were shown off by CEO Steve Ballmer at the Toronto Partner Conference and elicited more than a few “oohs” and “aahs” at the demo. While Surface was designed to take advantage of the new touch-enabled Windows 8 operating system, the initial release used the established tablet OS Windows RT. This didn’t really generate a lot of excitement amongst reviewers or potential buyers, but it did give the marketplace a taste of what was to come. In early 2013 Microsoft brought forth the then long-awaited Surface Pro with Windows 8.
While significantly more expensive than its predecessor (around $899 at Best Buy), the performance and features are right up there with the Apple iPad. Are you curious about performance? Surface boasts 3rd generation Intel Core i5 processor, double the Nexus 10’s RAM at 4 GB, and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. You almost feel as if you’re on a laptop rather than a tablet. Surface Pro also has the biggest display at 10.6 inches, but is still pretty thin and light measuring a scant half an inch thick and weighing only 903 grams. Like the competition, Surface has both front and rear facing cameras but stands apart with a feature called the Type Cover which protects the device and doubles as a keyboard for more traditional typing. Though not standard with the device, Type Cover is an extra which will run you another $130. Surface also comes with a stylus device called the Surface Pen which is superior in experience to both of the rivals. Storage memory is a big leap as well with either 64 GB or 128 GB available for about $100 more. One drawback of the 64 GB model is that there is really only about 23 GB available for data. Another major negative is battery life. If you are the kind of user who has multiple applications and videos running at the same time, you might only get about four hours from the battery. Hopefully this will be addressed in future iterations.
As you can see the competition is fierce, and frankly I am not going to advocate for any one device over another as each has its strengths and weaknesses. Your tablet of choice will depend on your budget, the applications you want to use, and the ease of integration into your network environment. While I believe that consumers will continue to gravitate to the less-expensive devices like the iPad and the Nexus 7, there will be more than a few businesses that will love the Surface for extending the Windows network for a seamless experience between all devices. Not to mention, the ease of integration with existing applications and superior performance will be a big bonus, too. Check them all out as there are variances in the user experience across the different operating systems, but rest assured that one thing is certain, the tablet is not a passing fad. Even though we scarcely gave it a second look when the attractive female yeomen handed a similar prop to Captain Kirk in the original “Star Trek,” we now know that it is a viable device and one that will only grow in popularity across all segments of the marketplace.