Once upon a time, one tablet ruled over the post-PC world, and this tablet was called iPad. Competing Android tablets soon entered the market, but an “iPad Killer” was nowhere to be found. Life was simple.
However, three years after the first iPad has been unveiled, the tablet world is rapidly shifting. Microsoft entered the market with its Surface tablets, and Android powered devices such as Google’s Nexus 10 lure consumers with better hardware specs than the mother of all tablets – the iPad.
There are several detailed reviews out there that compare the iPad 4 with Google’s Nexus 10 Android tablet (see here and here), and all conclude that the Nexus is the closest competitor to the iPad. In many hardware specs, including screen resolution, the Nexus indeed outperforms the iPad! Maybe it makes you wonder: Is the iPad still the best choice for you? Maybe you can save some dollars by going for a less expensive Android tablet? (I willfully ignore the new Windows tablet for now, whose initial sales and reception were quite a disappointment.)
The “Android vs. iPad” decision is a tough call because of its long-term consequences: I don’t know about you, but I rather build and fine-tune my computing workflow only once. And the situation is even trickier when not only your own time and dollars are on the line, but when you are trying to decide what platform should be adopted for a school-wide tablet program.
I don’t pretend to have the answer here. I don’t even have an unbiased opinion, since my own workflow is heavily based on Apple’s ecosystem: I sync between my iPad and my Mac when annotating papers, organizing my tasks and notes, conceptualizing ideas, and I use all kinds of helpful iPad apps in my research and studies.
See, I am a big advocate of integrating tablets with traditional computers, which gives me a somewhat different perspective on the iPad vs. Android debate: Hardware specs are less important than you think – its the ecosystem that is all important!
How do iPad and Android fit into your computing ecosystem?
In my opinion, one of the most important things in understanding tablet computers is that the tablet is not meant to replace your laptop or desktop computer. At least for knowledge athletes like you.
My mom’s next (and only) computer will be a tablet, but I am sure I will continue to use both laptop and tablet computer throughout my working life. My iPad and my Mac excel in different things: I can annotate papers and design presentations on both devices, but I prefer to do the former on my iPad and the latter on my MacBook.
The most important question, thus, is not whether a tablet replaces pen & paper or your laptop, but how you can integrate a tablet with all your other digital and analogue devices in a seamless workflow.
From such an ecosystem perspective, I couldn’t care less that the Google Nexus 10 or any other Android tablet (momentarily?) outshines the iPad in terms of hardware specs and price. What company will offer the better hardware will probably change back and forth over time (based on what company updated its lineup last). I also don’t see any reasons to always upgrade to the latest model – I am still rocking my first-gen iPad! Given my slow update cycle, I also don’t care much about paying the “Apple tax”. The longevity of my iPad and the ecosystem benefits are return enough for me to justify the higher price tag.
What ecosystem has the best long-term advantage?
When deciding between Android and iPad, the situation is relatively simple when its only about your own purchase decision. Forget about minor differences in specs and price, and just get the top of the line tablet in the ecosystem that is most closely integrated with your other computers. If you are a Mac user, I am pretty sure that this is the iPad.
Things are a little more complicated when you are in charge of outfitting your school with a tablet program, or when you are willing and able to build your own workflow from scratch (e.g., you can go either Mac or PC). But again, it is a matter of picking the best ecosystem. Minor differences in specs and price don’t matter, because the highest costs in choosing a tablet lie in the time you invest to incorporate it into your own and other peoples’ workflows.
When choosing an ecosystem from scratch – either for yourself or for your school – another important question must be asked: What eco-system is most likely to produce high quality tablet apps (now and in future) that will assist you in research, teaching and learning?
7 out of 10 mobile apps are developed for iOS
Great apps are not only a result of great ideas, but also of developers’ commitment to invest significant resources into the development process. It sounds very simple, but at the core, you and I enjoy great apps (on the iPad and Android tablets!) because developers decided to support its platform. When trying to forecast what ecosystem will have the best user experience over the next years to come, it is therefore important to look into developer loyalty.
Flurry is a service that tracks a massive amount of data to do exactly that. In a report from June 2012, it found that seven out of ten new project are started for iOS. That number includes both phones and tablets apps, but since Apple already has a higher amount of apps specifically designed for iPad, it is safe to assume that, at least over the next few years, the iPad will probably stay a few steps ahead of the Nexus and other Android tablets in terms of high quality tablet apps.
There is a simple reason that developers prefer to focus their resources on iOS rather than Android: Return on investment. According to Flurry’s data:
“the difference in revenue generated per active user is still 4 times greater on iOS than Android. For every $1.00 a developer earns on iOS, he can expect to earn about $0.24 on Android.”
There are multiple reasons for the higher return on investment in the iOS ecosystem, and a big one is the prevalent fragmentation within the Android world. Many Android devices still run an OS that is three to four generations old, thus limiting the base of devices that can take advantage of more advanced features in apps. Worse yet, Android devices often have different screen resolution and sizes that make developing apps for Android more complicated than developing iOS apps.
The Apple world has recently become a little more fragmented as well, mostly due to the new screen size of the iPhone 5 and, to a lesser extent, due to the higher resolution of the 3rd and 4th generation iPads. However, iOS apps can be relatively easily scaled between different devices. Even the 7.9 inch iPad mini can comfortably run the same iPad apps that are developed for the original 9.7 inch screen.
Developers’ incentive structure suggests long-term dominance of iOS ecosystem
Flurry’s data then suggest that many developers will continue to focus their resources on Apple’s ecosystem, thereby helping Apple to defend its first-mover advantage against Android: Many high quality tablet apps will arrive first (and often exclusively) on the iPad.
In other words: the fact that Android tablets are closing in on the iPad in terms of hardware specs does not mean that Apple has lost its allure for academic users. No doubt, Android tablets (and maybe Windows tablets) will continue to gain market share, and lots of users will find that the Nexus offers a good value and tablet experience. And if this experience results from a close integration of the Nexus with the rest of their computer ecosystem, then this is a great thing!
But don’t worry about minor hardware differences between the iPad and Android tablets like the Nexus! For power users, the ability to integrate tablets with the rest of their computing ecosystem and the long-term availability of high quality tablet apps are more important than minor differences in hardware. Given the data from Flurry, it seems like Apple will continue to attract talented developers to focus their energy on producing great iPad apps. For this reason, I am feeling comfortable with my (money and time) investment into Apple – but of course, this is only my biased opinion.
Disclaimer: Images from gizmag, gadget review and Flurry.