Dirty little secret about tablets: The platforms are basically equal

Dirty little secret about tablets: The platforms are basically equal

Summary: Tablet enthusiasts will argue that their platform of choice is far better than the others, but experience shows that's not really the case.

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Tablets equal
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Tablet owners will argue at length that their platform of choice is better than the others. It doesn't matter if the platform under discussion is iOS, Android, or Windows 8, they are convinced theirs is superior in almost every way. That may have been true in the past but not any longer. The fact is the three major tablet platforms are now pretty much the same.

I use all three platforms heavily, and I own tablets running each. It's not unusual for me to use a tablet for 8 hours or more on a given day. I consider myself knowledgable about all three tablet OSes, gained through actual usage and not just what I've read about them.

Gone are the days I must stop and think what I need to get done to determine what tablet/platform to use.

Some days I may use one tablet for half a day, and then switch off to another running a different OS. I may use a keyboard with these tablets or I may use the tablet only. I do things typically associated with tablets, and I do heavy work at times. My usage covers a broad spectrum, from surfing the web and consuming content to working with office documents. 

I admit I am not a typical tablet user given my heavy usage, but I do all the same things most owners do. While I read ebooks, watch video, and listen to music like most tablet users, I also create a lot of content with them.

The many hours I've spent with a tablet in front of me has proven one fact that some may find hard to believe. I find the three platforms to be relatively equal in usability for typical tablet stuff. While each has particular strengths and weaknesses, they all are useful and each can hold its own against the others for tablet use.

Platform enthusiasts will consider this blasphemous, but I stand by my observations. There is relative parity across Windows 8, Android, and the iPads. They all do essentially the same things and they do them pretty much the same way. The user experience is pretty equal across the platforms. While users are all different and each will have his/her favorite platform, I feel confident that if tablets on the other platforms were used, many would be surprised to find the other two platforms were not inferior to their favorite.

This parity became evident to me when I realized I am able to use any platform on a daily basis. I can grab any tablet I have on any of the platforms and do whatever I need to do. The experience is basically the same across the platforms and I can do what I need on each.

Yes, there are apps that are better on one platform than the others, but not consistently so. I can't put my finger on a single function that typical tablet users would perform that isn't reliable on any of the three OSes. That's not to say that all apps on each OS are totally equal, rather the gaps that separated quality of apps across the platforms have closed more than many might believe.

Of course there are apps on one platform or another that I wish was better, but nothing that's a deal-breaker. Many apps are cross-platform and run on two of the platforms, and in some cases all three. Even if some apps don't run on all of the OSes, there are often alternative apps that do the same thing.

The fact that I can pick up any tablet without regrets reflects a significant evolution in all the platforms. Gone are the days I must stop and think what I need to get done on a given day to determine what tablet/platform to use. I really can just grab one and get busy. That may be hard for some to believe, but it is the reality for this heavy tablet user. I think it is true for most tablet users.

There are technical differences among Android, Windows, and iOS, and some folks have requirements that makes one of them the only option. I believe that is the exception, and the vast majority of those interested in tablets would be well served by any of the platforms. 

Others may be invested in an ecosystem associated with one of the platforms, and that will tie them into that OS. If that's not the case, it would be a shame to discount the other platforms out of blind loyalty. Give them all a chance and what you discover might surprise you. Once you realize all three platforms are pretty good, you'll discover your choices for tablets got a whole lot bigger.

Topics: Mobility, Android, iPad, Tablets, Windows 8

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46 comments
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  • Simple

    True dat.
    Sacr
    • Smart

      This is one of the best article published on ZDNet for a long while. I'm a Surface user and an iPad user. It is true that both are pretty much as technically capable. Down the road, it all depends on the ecosystem you choose to work with. For me Outlook/Skydiver + the getting better everyday Windows Store is a perfect match.
      gbouchard99@...
      • Equal and not equal

        I'm a long time Windows ecosystem user. But for general tablet apps, I use an iPad (for 18 months). And I use an Android phone. And own an iPod Touch. (I do own a Nexus 7 dedicated with a link to my Canon DSLR for one specific app.)

        As someone knowledgeable in this field, I will say that all the partisanship around tablets causes me to pay less and less attention to the so-called industry experts. (Much like the same issue in Washington, DC). There are some realities in this environment today that are obvious to me:

        1) Microsoft really screwed (either intentionally or unintentionally) their keyboard based user community with Windows 8. Perhaps a great system for touch devices, but otherwise not so much. I am in the research stage for a new power user machine (databases, Adobe apps, Office, etc.) and would prefer Windows, but must admit the Windows 8 keyboard user fiasco has caused me to re-look at Mac Pro's, even with their higher prices. Maybe it's just I need to wait until all WIndows 8 machines are touch capable. Also most Windows vendors seem slow to rollout high end Haswell based devices.

        2) Apple understands tablets and tablet marketing. (look at the sales numbers). But it is not just tablet marketing. Let's face it, the iPad tablet devices just work. They are a one vendor ecosystem (from a HW perspective and core software perspective) and drive it to the hilt. And they can and do charge a premium over the non iOS tablets in most cases. But I don't have a single friend with an iPad (and I have lots of them) who cmplain about using the device -- they just use it. The same cannot be said of my friends with Windows 8, 90% of whom universally dislike it. I do have one friend with a Microsoft tablet, and he has no complaints.

        3) IMHO Apple understands what I call core user productivity apps - mail, readers, calendaring, contacts, etc. and the integration of them. IMHO Microsoft (at least in the Windows world (up through Win 8) are far off the mark. I moved to iPad for these apps 18 months ago, have never looked back, and would not consider moving back to a Windows system (7 or 8) for them. While I do still use Outlook on my work based Windows 7 laptop, I also have a iPad app I use 50% of the time for reading that email.

        These core productivity apps seem to work cross-functionally on Android as well, at least as far as I can tell, since I have them all sync'd to my HTC One, and they share data interchangeably. But the screen is too small (for me) to be my primary device for these apps.

        I can honestly say I have no idea what Microsoft TABLET app capabilities are in this space. Do they easily sync contacts & calendar with Google? Can I use them all without requiring a Microsoft cloud account to do heavy lifting? Can they use POP email as well as IMAP email, etc. I know Windows 8 on a laptop can NOT do so. But cannot speak about the tablet.

        For multi-device sync on calendars and contacts, I depend on Google -- again Microsoft has (from my view) not appears appeared to be a strong player in the open cross-platform sync space. They seem (again my view) to be a one horse proprietary vendor in this space. Contrast this with Apple who is a proprietary device, but builds apps that are quite honestly very open to communication with other devices. Perhaps Microsoft believes they have Windows users locked in, but I would say the exact opposite is true. My friends are buy more and more Apple devices, while Windows becomes a niche player, and device for legacy apps.

        Just my 2 cents.
        EasyDoesIt
        • 8.1

          Try windows 8.1 before you count it out.. MS really improved the desktop experience and if the modern stuff bugs you, you can now go straight to the desktop. Plus the modern email and calendar have really been improved and the integration with windows phone 8 is outstanding.. Not a fanboy but I do give credit where it is due.. That being said.. Where is an install to sd card option on windows phone 8 MS?!?! ;-P
          Nick Zamparello
        • Microsoft tablet app for mail, readers, calendaring, contacts...

          You said you use Outlook on your Windows 7 laptop...why wouldn't you use it on your Windows 8 tablet? I've used everything else including Lotus Notes, and Outlook/Exchange is still the best. I'm surprised anyone would choose Gmail over Outlook.com, but I guess if you've never tried it...yes, it's free and you can bring your own domain name, so you're not locked into a platform like with Google or Apple.
          josh@...
          • it is subjective, the email provider preference

            I admit that outlook is good.
            But all my contacts and many other stuff are connected to my gmail. I also prefer the gmail layout. After using it for so many years, my mouse movements are tuned to it. Also it has much better integration with android.
            Just my 2 cents.
            kashyap.bikram@...
        • Very much agree

          I heavily use a windows laptop and the ipad together at work and use the ipad 99% of the time at home. Ipad is my go to device for email, browsing, organizational stuff, my daily log, online transactions, and a bunch of other stuff. I've just ended up loving how all the apps work together so easily for those tasks on the ipad. But I'm still a hardcore office user on the pc, so it's not like I've given up a laptop.

          One things for sure, all thes cloud storage apps and other tools sure make it lots easier to move from one platform to the other --- midday, midwork, or because you get new hardware.
          ZeroGeeZ0
  • I agree but...

    I still prefer my surface over my ipad.
    DJK2
  • Kudos for saying what needed to be said

    I too have all three platforms, use them daily for work and pleasure, and find the article is spot on. Not sure how the commenting will go if at all, heads will be exploding. This is what happens when logic and truth triumphs.
    greywolf7
  • And yet, the iPad still outscores

    the others on performance and ease of use. And ease of use is what turns users into fans.
    baggins_z
    • Subjective.

      Performance, yes (due to improved architecture), but ease of use? Depends.

      For example, I enjoy Windows 8 because its navigation is thumb and gesture driven.

      It requires less arm movement to get things done, and your hands can comfortably stay at the side.

      However, I enjoy iOS' navigation more than Stock Android's, but the latter has a more polished look to it.

      I still don't like iOS 7 though, mainly since it killed the performance on my older devices.
      ForeverCookie
    • Glad to see you recycling baggins

      Although not sure it will help the planet.

      So we're back to better performance are we - that's funny, I don't seem to be able to text/email/surf any quicker on istuff. My phonecalls don't seem to finish any quicker, so tell me, where is this magical performance boost. Oh, for the techy's, yeah I could understand that, barely, it's just the other 90% of the world that don't see it and don't care about paper specs.

      As for ease of use - so that's why you don't see any 'Iphones for dummies' books out there. Correction, there are plenty out there so how easy is it to use for a non-tech literate user? I know my parents were delighted with the Ipad for Dummies book I got them last xmas, it would seem it's not as easy as you say it is.

      I applaud you for not letting the truth get in the way of decent comment baggins.
      Little Old Man
    • I'd love to speak with these people to determine why they...

      ...believe the iPad is easier to use. I've made the same request of OS X users who say OS X is easier than Windows. I never get a straight answer.
      ye
      • Most people can't give you a reason why

        they just think it is. That doesn't invalidate the opinion. Because if that's the person's opinion, then that's where they are going to spend their money. In other words, this very subjective opinion has very real-world consequences.

        So instead of arrogantly dismissing it, perhaps you should find a way to tap into it.
        baggins_z
        • However, that said, Ivies has given what he thinks is the

          secret to "ease of use" that turns users into fans: Having the technology "disappear."
          baggins_z
          • Don't confuse familiarity with...

            ...ease of use / technology disappearing. All three platforms work essentially in the same way. Implementation differences exist but if you can use one you can use the others. And the more you use the others the "easier" it is to use as the technology "disappears".
            ye
        • If they can't tell me why then it doesn't exist.

          So I will dismiss it. Now if they say they prefer one over the other then that's valid. But to say one is easier than another? I want examples.
          ye
          • I feel sorry for you

            If you have never see beautiful things in this world and claim they don't exist, because you have not seen them is sad. Ignoring the fact that other people praise these places, because you don't is also sad.

            For some reason, you think everyone deserves to live just as miserable a life as you? Why is that?
            danbi
      • It is about the underlying concepts that OSX/iOS are based on

        Which works well for some people. For me, I prefer the concepts behind Windows, then Linux and generally dislike the "intuitive" design of Apple. I have a thorough understanding of Windows and my expectations are that computers would work like that. This doesn't mean that Apple does it wrong, just very different than I'm used to. I know people who prefer Apple's approach.

        What I tell people is: Use what works for you, if you aren't sure, try each of them out.
        grayknight
      • I've given you straight answers numerous times. You just ignore the facts.

        .DeusExMachina.