Apple’s latest iPad is again proving to be a bestseller. We pit it against the best of the rest from its competitors to see exactly how well it measures up
Apple has been so successful over the past few years that the name ‘iPad’ is probably more recognisable to many than the term ‘tablet computer’. At the last official count, the company had sold nearly 60 million iPads – and the gadget is only two years old.
The latest model – called the ‘new iPad’, a little confusingly – launched recently and Apple has described interest as “off the charts”. So, where does this leave the competition and, more importantly, is there anyone who wants a tablet computer that isn’t an iPad?
The good news is that Apple isn’t the only tablet-maker in town and, although the alternatives aren’t anything like as popular as the iPad, some do at least have something different to offer. Indeed, a few include features not present in Apple’s tablet – so the competition deserves a look-in.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about tablet computers and the current contenders. In short, don’t buy a tablet until you’ve read our comprehensive guide.
The rise of the iPad
When the iPad was announced in 2010, many critics complained that it was an oversized iPhone. The observation wasn’t – and isn’t – too wide of the mark but the off-hand dismissal failed to appreciate one important point: it turned out that an oversized iPhone is precisely what many people want.
Around the same time, so-called netbook computers were proving very popular, thanks to their portability and low cost. However, they weren’t always practical.
A clamshell-style case with a small screen mounted close to the keyboard is uncomfortable to use for long periods and can be used only when sitting down, which meant netbooks were an unsatisfactory option for use when standing.
By dropping the physical keyboard and using the same responsive and accurate touchscreen technology as the iPhone, Apple’s iPad largely solved this problem.
Sleek hardware was only one key factor though, and the other was iOS – a simple, yet powerful, operating system that, unlike much of the competition, could be controlled using a fingertip.
Why buy a tablet?
Before his death last year, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously proclaimed that we are now in a ‘post-PC’ era, which is to say that thanks to the likes of the iPad many people no longer need a traditional desktop or laptop computer. That statement will doubtless be discussed for years to come but it’s true that tablets offer many different ways to use a computer than a traditional PC.
Part of the iPad’s appeal is its simplicity. Press the tablet’s power button and it will be ready to use instantly. Install an app and there is no need to restart. When you are done, don’t worry about switching off – because the battery will last for days on end.
The physical design of a tablet also makes it suited for use anywhere, any time. Watching a TV programme and want to chat about it on Twitter? Meeting some friends and want to show your holiday snaps? Want to browse the web in bed?
You can use a laptop in all three situations but by the time you have pulled it from its bag, sat it comfortably on your lap, opened the lid, waited for Windows to start, dismissed the inevitable request to download updates and finally launched the appropriate program, you might as well not have bothered. None of this is necessary with a tablet.
Of course, the smaller screen size of a tablet does place practical limits on what the device can be used for, as does the inability – practically or otherwise – to have more than one app on screen at a time. However, this latter limitation is an intentional way to keep tablets simple rather than a serious shortcoming.
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