Tablet shoppers didn’t hand Apple 87 percent market share because the iPad was the only game in town. The company took its phone-based software and optimized it for tablets in meaningful ways, including split-screen views for apps such as Mail. At the same time, iOS for iPad is just as intuitive as it is on the iPhone, making it easy for users of all ages to jump in.
The biggest advantage iOS has over the competition is apps. Apple offers more than 65,000 apps, with lots of compelling choices in multiple categories, especially games. Of course, one also can’t ignore that you can use the same iTunes account to purchase apps, music, movies, TV shows, and books. Up next (according to reports): more enhanced multitouch gestures, FaceTime support, and the ability to turn your iPad into a hotspot.
Just as in the smart phone world, right now Apple’s most formidable foe is Google. The company has built the latest Android 3.0 software from the ground up for tablets. You’ll find split-screen apps here, too, plus enhanced multitasking, a slick new 3D interface, more interactive widgets, and video chat via Google Talk. Other highlights include tabbed browsing and an improved notification system. Unfortunately, the Android Market stocks only about 48 apps in its tablet section thus far, and the software does have a learning curve.
RIM hopes to make a splash with its BlackBerry PlayBook, which is geared toward the professional crowd. The OS is very secure and multitasking-friendly (and looks mighty similar to HP’s webOS). However, you need to tether your BlackBerry phone to get work e-mail, which could be a dealbreaker for some.
HP is pinning its tablet hopes on webOS, which it acquired from Palm. In addition to an emphasis on multitasking, webOS plays up social networking integration, easy printing, and sharing of data with webOS phones with just a tap. The first webOS tablet, the TouchPad, won’t be out until this summer.
Meanwhile, the Windows camp is trying to put the best face it can on Windows 7 using various software overlays. We’re also seeing many hardware designs that include physical keyboards. None of these efforts can hide the fact that the underlying OS was not made for touch input, or that Microsoft lacks an app store. Nevertheless, some tablet shoppers will prefer the familiarity of Windows and treat the tablet functionality as a bonus.