As Google's Android platform rises in popularity and challenges the iPad's market share, it can be confusing for the consumer who simply wants a good, quality tablet without the hassle. In fact, it can sometimes be hard to tell one from the other without checking the back for a label. So which should you go with? The iPad? The Nexus 7? A Kindle Fire? A Galaxy 10.1? The iPad vs. Android dilemma can be a difficult one, but it's a question that can be solved by asking yourself what you want in a tablet.
In order to determine which tablet is right for you, we'll go over the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms.
The iPhone/iPad ecosystem is a huge strength for the iPad. This includes the App Store, which has over 800,000 apps, with 300,000 designed specifically for the iPad and the rest capable of running in compatibility modes. This also includes accessories, which go beyond just tablet cases, wireless keyboards and external speakers. You can do everything from hook your guitar into an iPad to converting your iPad into a miniature coin-operated arcade game (minus the need for quarters).
The iPad also tends to be more stable and easier to use than Android tablets. Apple approves each app individually, ensuring that it (mostly) does what it claims it will do an the worst of the bugs are eliminated. Because Apple and app developers only need to support a limited number of devices, it is easier to stamp out bugs. And while Android has made great strides in becoming easier to use, Apple's device tends to be more simple and less overwhelming.
The trade off in being more stable and easier to use is having less customization and ability to expand. While it is great that each app is checked by Apple before being released into the app store, and iPad users can rest a little easier knowing that it is harder for malware to get onto their device, this approval process does lock out some apps that would be useful. The iPad also lacks the ability to expand its storage through flash drives, which means when you run out of storage space, you are really out of space.
The iPad is also more expensive than Android. When the iPad first came out, the price was a strong selling point. It was tough to conceive of a $499 touch-based tablet. Now, with 7-inch tablets becoming more popular, you can get a current generation Android tablet with plenty of processing power for just $199, which is significantly cheaper than the $329 iPad Mini.
The biggest strength of the Android is the vast array of devices from which to choose and the amount you can customize your tablet once you make your purchase. Between the Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy and Kindle Fire, there are three premier Android tablets to go along with hundreds of other lesser-known name brands. Android has also matured quite a bit over the last few years, supporting some features like widgets (small apps that run on your home screen so you don't have to open them) that Apple has stayed away from.
Android's Google Play marketplace has also come a long way in the past few years. It is now up to 800,000 apps, matching Apple's App Store. While the lack of supervision means more of those apps will be throwaways without much use, the boost in numbers does provide a lot more variety than Android experienced when the tablet wars began.
New 7-inch tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire also provide a cheaper entrance into the tablet world. They are able to do this because Google and Amazon take a loss in selling you the hardware, which allows them to price the tablets more competitively than Apple.
The lack of supervision over Google Play is one of the big downsides to Android. You might know exactly what you are getting when you download name-brand apps like Netflix or Hulu Plus, but when you see some little-known app, you don't quite know what you are going to get. Amazon fixes this by providing their own App Store for the Kindle Fire tablets, but that means the Kindle Fire has a more limited app selection.
Rampant piracy has also done some damage to the Android platform. While it is possible to pirate apps for the iPad, it's much easier on Android. The greater amount of piracy has led some app developers to stick with the iPhone and iPad rather than risk the money it would take to create an Android version of their apps. This is especially an issue for top tier games, which can take more time and resources to build.
And while the variety of devices can be a good point when shopping for what you want, it has its downside in support. Android operating system updates are not always compatible with all devices, and it can be difficult for app developers to stamp out bugs on all supported devices. This can lead to stability problems in some apps, though this can be lessoned by sticking with the three premier Android tablet brands (Galaxy, Nexus, Kindle Fire).
iPad: Who Should Buy?
The iPad is a great tablet for those who want to take the experience beyond just media consumption. While the iPad is great for watching movies, listening to music and reading books, it can also be used to make movies, create music and write books. Apple's suite of office applications and apps like iMovie and Garage Band make much of this possible, and a growing number of third-party apps are providing more substance to the app store.
The iPad is also the perfect tablet for those who are a little intimidated by technology. Apple has decided to go with a more simple design, which may mean less customization, but it also means easier to use. This means you can get to the fun of owning a tablet with less time spent learning to use it.
The iPad also shines the area of gaming, especially those who want to take the experience beyond just Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. Apple has challenged the entire portable gaming market with some of the cool games available on the iPad.
Last, the iPad makes a great companion to those who already own Apple product. iPhone users will enjoy Photo Stream, which lets you share photos between devices, and Apple TV owners will love the ability to wirelessly send the iPad's display to their big screen TV.
Android: Who Should Buy?
The Android audience can be divided into two main categories: (1) those who want to use the device for watching movies, reading books, listening to music and playing casual games and (2) those who want to customize their experience or love to tweak their device to get the most out of it.
Android tablets will appeal to those who mostly want to consume entertainment because the initial price tag can be significantly cheaper. This means more money for the good stuff, and the cheaper 7-inch tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire are more than capable of running Netflix, Hulu Plus, playing music and reading books.
Android also provides a more customizable experience. So if the first thing you do when you get a new smartphone or gadget is to hit the settings to get it just right, you might be the perfect Android user. Home screen widgets might intimidate some people, but they can be both useful and pretty cool.
And just as the iPad can interact with other Apple devices, Android tablets can be a great companion to those who already own an Android smartphone.