Fundamentals of Tablets

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Some of you may still be wondering what a tablet is.  Is it a computer, is a netbook?  Tablets run the same operating systems as cellphones, and are technically a mobile device.  In short, Linux has made a return through mobile computing.  Linux always was an operating system used to run various computing devices, but tablets and smartphones put it squarely in the hands of the consumer.

This requires a different way of looking at computing.  With tablets, the total amount of memory that is accessible is almost as important as the actual RAM that is in use.  The device that I am using, the Pendigital Novel reader, has 1GB of memory on a microSD built into the unit, and can take up to 32GB of RAM through an SD/MMC expandable slot.  If you are looking at a Tablet and its external memory the same way that you do a hard drive on a PC or a Mac, which can now store up to as much as 1TB of information, you are totally missing the point.

You do not need 500GB of external memory on these devices.  They are capable of running more than one program at a time, but chances are, you aren’t necessarily switching back and forth on these devices.  They don’t have actual Windows to open and close, but you can take a look and see which processes are running at one time.

There is no taskbar, no dock, and no start menu on these devices.  It is just a bunch of icons, and at the top a back button, a settings button and a home button.  There are five different mobile operating systems in use now, iOS, Android, webOS, Blackberry Tablet OS, and of course, Microsoft Windows.  There are Windows Tablets out there, some of which can also run Android.

Chances are, unless you have an iPad, you will be using an Android tablet.  It has close to 50% of the marketshare, followed closely by iOS, which is the Apple mobile operating system.  Android is an operating system developed by a company of the same name purchased by Google back in 2005 and revealed to the public in 2007.  It is open source, and is a cross between being the Microsoft Windows of mobile operating systems, because anyone and everyone can and has developed applications for it, and the Linux of mobile operating systems, because of its open source nature and the fact that it is based off of Linux.

The mobile industry has been a difficult industry to dominate in the same way as the PC industry, which may be one reason that Microsoft has not been slow to respond.  The early players were RIM (Blackberry), Motorola, Nokia and Palm, and it took Microsoft decades to get into the cellphone game.  In fact, both Microsoft and Apple skipped the featurephone era of the nineties, allowing the early pioneers to lay the ground work for their own operating systems once smartphones began to surface in the early part of the last decade.  What’s worse, is that Microsoft still does not have an actual phone, unlike Apple which has had phones for at least 4 years now.  Microsoft did attempt to get into hardware, with the Microsoft Kin, but that was as late as 2010 and a failed experiment as the Kin is now a cheap featurephone.  Microsoft does have Windows Mobile 7 for smartphones, but that operating system has not been adapted for tablets.  Instead, we have actual versions of Microsoft Windows 7 running on tablets, which means that the operating system has been ported, as opposed to explicitly built, for tablets.

Microsoft did finally build a tablet OS; Windows 8 Tablet OS builds upon what Microsoft already started with Windows 7 Mobile.  This is a promising user interface for those already accustomed to Windows smartphones, as there is a serious learning curve with tablets.  It will still be a learning curve for those accustomed to Microsoft Windows, as it should be, because tablets and smartphones are not the same type of computing devices as PCs are.

You don’t need hard drives, CD rom, DVD rom, or anything external with a tablet.  The keyboard actually pops up whenever you are using an application that actually needs input from the user.  If you are simply staring at the desktop, there is no need for input, and no keyboard is accessible.  You can change the keyboard if you need to.

There are two versions of Android available; tablets and smartphones do not run the same identical versions of this operating system.  For tablets, the latest version available is 3.2.1, which is known as Honeycomb, for smartphones, the latest version available is 2.3.7, which is known as Gingerbread.  You can get by with an older version of Android.  The operating system is free with the device and updates as needed.

When installing programs you use an application built into the device.  This is different from Windows, which requires you to go to Programs and Features to remove programs.  The same application that allows you to install programs, can also be used to remove those same programs.  On Android devices, you can also install programs wherever you find them; the Google Android Store is the most obvious place to find programs but there can be found all over the Internet.

You are informed of whether or not programs are fully compatible with your system before installing them.  You are also informed explicitly, of which read/write access programs will have to your system, and whether or not you will incur data charges through the use of a program, before installing it.  Programs are usually free, and I have yet to see a program that is over $20.  This is dramatically different environment from Windows or Mac, where you would pay several hundred dollars for a program.  Viruses do not seem to be an issue, though it will be interesting to see just how that plays out in the future if and when tablets ever replace PCs as the computer of choice.  You also have to look at the fact that no one is doing anything of importance to warrant writing viruses; I have yet to as much as check my bank account on a tablet.  All of this could change if people start using tablets as though there were PCs.  

There are tens of thousands of apps available for iOS and Android.  For the other mobile operating systems I mentioned, there are thousands of apps available.  I would stick to Android or iOS if purchasing a tablet today; Blackberry has decent apps and good support but it is doubtful what will happen to webOS or Windows 8 Tablet OS.  It isn’t that Microsoft will go out of business or abandon tablets anytime soon, but one has to question just how much they will charge for those apps.  You can actually get a tablet for under $200 in retail stores.  The major differences, other than the usual specs, will be in the physical quality of the hardware; some of the more expensive tablets have a different type of touch screen.

Remember, on tablets navigation is tactile; there is no mouse, just your fingers.  It takes some getting used to, but once you do you realize that this is worlds apart from personal computing.  One last thing, tablets may or may not use Adobe Flash, the iPad does not, and some of the cheaper Android tablets, such as the one I am using, does not.  If you want to play YouTube videos you may want to stick with some of the more expensive devices out there on the market.    

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