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2011 Tablet Comparison Chart

A review of our recommended tablets

Our prediction for the top selling tablets of 2011

Alex Fergusson Architects

Tablet Platform Comparison

First Intro and Background | Apple iOS | Android | Windows | Alternatives Summary

The Alternatives

Looking back over the original of this page, which I wrote over a year ago, I feel the words "I told you so." coming impertinently to my lips, because as you can see from the highlighted section just here, I was predicting a very doubtful future for all the mobile platforms not called Android or iOS (which runs on Apple gadgets). Although billions were spent trying to prove this prediction wrong, most of the alternative platforms detailed below, are now little more than historical footnotes. They are still listed here though, for interest with minor notes to record the demise of each one.

When considering a market like this for tablet platforms, it is important to remember that the network effect applies. In consequence, in mass market terms, there is no third prize; often there isn't even a second prize. Look, for instance at the market battle between VHS and Betamax for video tapes, or the battle for the desktop PC operating system prize. In each of these cases, there really was only one winner.

So if iOS for the iPad and Android take the top two steps on the podium, is there any chance for RIM's QNX, WebOS or Meego?

May 2011

The mobile market is a new field of combat, even though it is somewhat similar to that for the desktop operating systems. However, bitter memories of the near complete domination that Microsoft's Windows achieved in desktop PCs, may well mitigate against any of today's contenders achieving a true hands down victory. And currently, the most likely outcome seems to be that Apple's iOS and Google's Android will share the market more evenly for a few years yet.

But probably, there still won't be a third prize, and even if there is, it will most likely go to Windows. So the long term prospects for all the alternative platforms listed below look pretty poor. Billions of dollars have been spent, but probably, ultimately to no avail.

[Make no mistake, by the way, that it is dollars that have been spent. Currently all the companies that have any prospect of success in this market are based in North America. Why? Answers on a postcard, or more realistically, by clicking the Comments button below.]

From a more technical point of view, all these alternative platforms fall under the heading of Linux-based proprietary systems. Mostly, they are used by one manufacturer only. Clicking on the links for a tablet mentioned below will take you to the appropriate page of our comparison table which compares for each specifications side by side

RIM Balckberry PlaybookQNX. This is only available on the RIM Playbook. Also, anything using this platform currently needs to be linked to a Blackberry mobile phone to gain access to a proper Email, calendar or contacts application - or in fact - even to access the internet over 3G. This implies that QNX is targeted firmly at existing Blackberry owners. RIM tell us that the QNX - Blackberry environment is more secure, but even for devoted Blackberryists, this might feel like a step too far towards being locked into a smaller "walled garden" than is occupied by iPhone and iPad users. To sweeten the pill, RIM has promised that QNX users will be able to get Android apps on the Playbook - but not yet.

[Update] While the technical position is better than it was, particularly regarding using QNX away from your Blackberry, this narrative has played pretty badly for RIM lately - together with issues regarding the dated look of the Blackberry phone range - and their share price has dropped by around 95% from its peak in 2008 (against gains of 20% or so for the main NASDAQ and Dow Jones indices).

WebOS* This was owned by HP. It was bought by them as part of the takeover of Palm - maker of the Palm Pre smartphone. WebOS was well received when it first appeared in 2009, but with Apps counted in hundreds, rather than hundreds of thousands for iOS and Android, it was always going to be an uphill struggle. The iPad and Android tablet platforms were on their second iteration, when the tablet version of WebOS was finally released. HP had missed the boat. Their HP Touchpad tablet was released in June 2011, but but remaindered at all retail outlets only a couple of months later.

I studied a whole MBA a few years back and now all I recall of value are about half a dozen pithy phrases, one of which would come in very handy for HP when choosing between WebOS and Android for their mobile offerings: "Ignore sunk cost." In other words, they should have forgotten about the cash they'd spent on WebOS and ditched it in favour of Android.

Since December 2011, WebOS has been made Open Source and may yet revive driven by nerdy developers around the world. But don't hold your breath.

Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader. These systems have been tested by users, but with few Apps available, neither OS has had to do much. They are targeted at reading books and they don't do much more. With the Barnes & Noble Nook Colour reader migrating to a full Android platform, and Amazon having released the Kindle Fire tablet, it seems likely that these platforms specific to eReaders will shortly be consigned to history. In the future, an eReader will just be a specialised Android tablet - better for being read in natural light (because it will use e-Ink), lighter, but slower when working with Apps and not so good with video because that way, it can be made cheaper.

Meego This was to be the response to mainstream mobile platforms, as dreamt up by Intel and Nokia. But early in 2011, with Meego's progress looking less than stellar, Nokia opted instead to go with Windows Phone 7 and now Windows 8. In principle, there is still a roadmap for Meego, but realistically, it seems to be heading for the foothills of obscurity.

Chrome - Released May 2011 in the "Chromebook" With Android, the most promising platform for tablets, already in their stable, it was a puzzling move on Android vs Chrome logos weighed in the balanceGoogle's part when they announced the Chrome OS in July 2009. It was a second operating system apparently dedicated to people on the move - lightweight, using personal information downloaded from the Cloud. Although the product is not meant to be confused with Google's Chrome browser, it obviously is a bit confusing as they have pretty much the same name. Was this an outward sign of an internal turf war between different teams deep with the Googleplex? Or is it just a mistake? It's hard to say.

Users have worried that when they are away from the Cloud, for instance on holiday, their shiny Chrome gadget might become as handy as a brick in the luggage.

The Chromebook was announced at "Google IO" in May 2011. It is a netbook powered by the Chrome OS which has a keyboard and, initially, an Intel processor.

[Update] A year on, and Google are still releasing updates to Chrome - 21 as of the date of writing, but market reaction has been luke warm at best. A GoNote netbook running Android is now being launched and this, or products like it, look like to take Android well into the market niche that had been planned for the Chrome OS.

Except, perhaps, one should mention that there may be a Google uberstrategy involving corporate employees getting a Chromebook foisted onto them in the office and then buying an alternative Android device for themselves on the basis that there may be compatibility for some of the apps. You would then "Bring Your Own Device" to the office (BYOD), and your device would be hooked up to the office network permitting you to return the Chromebook to the IT department. (Phew!)

Thus the Chromebook might end up being sold in bulk to the corporate finance director on the clear understanding that he won't be expected to use one himself. It could well end up as a common workstation for things like call centre applications.

First Intro and Background | Apple iOS | Android | Windows | Alternatives Summary

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