Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
With the iPad, Apple has a great product that is dominating the tablet market. And it’s clear why. The iPad looks amazing, works really well, and has a plethora of apps available for it. The new iPad also has the Retina Display, which even I, as someone not exactly enamored by the slight upgrades, readily admit is a fantastic innovation.
However, there are alternatives to the iPad on the market, and not all of them are as crappy as some would have you believe. I recently purchased a generic Android tablet for a fraction of the price of an iPad, and am immeasurably pleased with it. Having already detailed my particular reasons for choosing the tablet I purchased, here are things all potential tablet owners should consider before laying their money on the Apple Store counter.
Android Over iOS
For a long time there was really no contest between iOS and Android. Apple had the upper hand, with a stunning mobile operating system that worked, was elegant, and was actually a breath of fresh air in a tired marketplace. But Google has worked hard to improve Android over the past few years, to the point at which I’d say Android trumps iOS quite convincingly.
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is magnificent both for smartphones and tablets. While your handset probably has a manufacturer overlay such as Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense, even stock ICS is now more than capable of delivering a fast, fluid experience. This means any tablet that can be rooted and updated to the latest version of Android is going to be a solid performer on the OS side of things.
There is also the fact that Android is open-source and offers much more ‘freedom’ than Apple’s proprietary iOS.
Freedom isn’t something you can associate with Apple and its products. A feeling that the company knows better than its customers is built into the Apple culture, mainly due to Steve Jobs‘ perfectionism. He wanted his products to be the finished article without the need for anyone to go tampering with them for any reason. Unless they’re Apple Store geniuses like the one above.
From customization options to multitasking, freedom is one of the main advantages of going with an Android tablet over an iPad. With Android you’re encouraged to make choices for yourself, with iOS you’re confined to the strict choices Apple deems fit to offer. You don’t need to become a sheep joining the Apple fold with the rest of the flock.
Buying an Android tablet instead means freedom – to tinker with the tablet to your heart’s content, to buy the apps you want to without them needing to pass through Apple’s overreaching App Store approval process, to actually own your product rather than feel it’s merely on loan to you from Apple.
The Apple Ecosystem
Buying an iPad means getting sucked into the Apple ecosystem. It’s an inevitability of purchasing an Apple product that requires the use of iTunes and the App Store to get the most of it. I’m not a fan of iTunes, and have consequently avoided using it whenever possible to this point. And I’ve managed perfectly well without it. Buying an iPad would mean giving in to its lure.
The Apple ecosystem goes beyond merely iTunes though. Once you have the iPad you’re then much more likely to buy other Apple products, to visit your nearest Apple Store, to get used to the Apple way of doing things. That $499 purchase will suddenly end up emptying your bank balance as you plow money into Apple’s burgeoning coffers. The iPad is far from a loss leader, but it’s a gateway drug to the more-expensive Apple products.
Google has its own ecosystem, of course, but Google Play is much less important a factor in your life after you buy an Android tablet than iTunes is after you buy an iPad. Plus there’s the fact that you’re likely already in Google’s sights thanks to their omnipresence on the Web via search, advertising, Gmail, YouTube, etc.
Unless you are relatively comfortable in terms of money, the iPad is an expensive device to buy. Certainly for a product that only fills the gap between smartphone and laptop, and consequently isn’t anything approaching an essential purchase. Not that I think Apple is price gouging with the iPad; the fact that many Android tablets are just as expensive suggests otherwise.
However, there are cheaper alternatives out there for those willing to explore all options. My generic Android tablet cost me just £75 ($120) and does everything I need it to, and more besides. That’s an extreme example but even brand-name Android tablets can be cheaper, such as the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 which at $399 undercuts the new iPad by $100. The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is even cheaper at $249, and that smaller-sized screen harks back to the freedom to choose which Apple simply does not offer.
From the operating system to the freedom to choose, from the Apple ecosystem to the budget-busting price, the iPad doesn’t win on every point of the checklist. It may be the best tablet on the market right now purely in terms of capability, but power isn’t the only thing that needs to be taken into consideration.
What I would recommend to anyone seeking to purchase a tablet device is to 1. think about what you expect to use it for and 2. do lots of research. I can’t help feeling many people are blindly buying an iPad without even looking at other options. There are alternatives available, one of which may suit your needs better than Apple’s market-leading device. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you.
If you have a tablet, let us know which one you bought, and what thought processes went into deciding what to buy.