SideXSide: Top Tablet Operating Systems

Apple’s iPad was the unchallenged leader in the tablet space for 2010, but that’s changing this year as the tablet market heats up. There are a number of contenders about to enter the ring. If you’re thinking seriously about bringing tablets to your company’s employees this year, your options include iPad, Research In Motion BlackBerry PlayBook or one of the many Android-based tablets to hit store shelves this year, such as the Cisco Cius. If you’re interested in learning more about those devices, see the SideXSide in which we compared features of five of the hottest tablets currently on the market or due to hit store shelves this year. Here, we compare the three leading tablet operating systems that these devices run on.

SideXSide: Comparing Tablet Operating Systems


Apple iOS 4

Google Android 2.2

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook OS

Customer focus

Initially built with consumers in mind, Apple’s iOS platform is starting to make inroads in the enterprise, thanks to permissions and other IT-control features.

For now, Android is a decidedly consumer-focused platform. However, because it’s open source, tablet makers have the ability to modify the operating system to make it  enterprise-friendly

According to RIM (and its initial ads for the BlackBerry PlayBook notwithstanding), its Tablet OS is designed with corporate customers in mind. In fact, it’s the only OS designed for the enterprise first.

IT control features

Apple has come a long way in delivering more IT control features in its iOS platform. One of the key aspects for IT control is the ability to set restrictions on access to the Web, iTunes, mobile applications, and much more. The platform offers remote access and control, such as  the ability to remote-wipe a lost or stolen device, as well as mobile device management tools.

When it comes to enterprise control on Google’s Android 2.2 platform, the operating system is a bit lacking. The platform supports policy management with “device administrator” apps that offer a bit of security. However, because Android is open source, different features will be available on different devices. For example, Cisco’s Cius promises remote connections via AnyConnect Security Mobility from Cisco, and  more.

The BlackBerry Tablet operating system is designed with corporate users in mind. One of the key features is the operating system’s ability to support multiple users. With the help of multiple user support, you can control the ways in which sensitive data are maintained on the platform. The operating system will otherwise behave much the same way as RIM’s mobile operating system, meaning a relatively high standard of control.

Security considerations

There are four main pillars to Apple’s iOS security strategy: device security; network security; data protection; and platform security. The company’s device security starts with an onboard passcode, so unauthorized users can’t access information. App restrictions on the device are also in place. In addition, Apple’s platform supports VPN and SSL/TLS for network security. It boasts “built-in hardware encryption using AES 256-bit encoding.” Just as importantly, third-party apps must be signed by developers, and are in a sandbox.

When it comes to corporate security on the Android platform, Google’s operating system is lagging. In addition to the “device administrator” feature, it includes the ability to enforce password policies with Exchange. Unfortunately, Android falls short in several other areas. Over the past year, a number of “proof-of-concept” exploits were released, showing potential security holes in the operating system. For its part, Google says its operating system is secure, but most would agree that more security additions are needed.

The BlackBerry PlayBook operating system’s support of multiple users is a key component in keeping sensitive data away from unauthorized users. In addition, it’s based on QNX’s Neutrino’s microkernel architecture, which ensures apps, the networking stack, and other components in the use of the OS cannot harm the platform or other applications, thanks to the fact that they run in “memory-protected user space.” RIM has said that the platform will also include the many key security features available in its smartphone operating system.

Key enterprise features Apple iOS 4 platform boasts support for Exchange, Lotus Domino, and several other “standards-based messaging environments.” The platform supports VPN and includes the ability for enterprise customers to create their own proprietary applications and run them in their operations. Push support is also included.

Android 2.2 includes support for Exchange and integration with corporate directories from the platform. Remote access to the platform allows for remote wipe and other key features when tablets are out and about.

Like iOS and Android, BlackBerry Tablet OS supports multitasking. However, RIM has said that its option is “real” multitasking. Applications that you might already be using on BlackBerry OS will work with BlackBerry Tablet OS. 

Enterprise application support

Overall, enterprise application support is quite high in iOS. That’s due mainly to the sheer number of applications — more than 300,000 — available in Apple’s App Store

Google’s Android platform does not offer as many business applications as Apple’s store does.

Since the BlackBerry Tablet OS is not available yet, there’s no way to know how many applications it will support. However, since it’s focused mainly on corporate customers and RIM has already made its plans clear that it wants to heavily support applications, expect several.

Browsing considerations

A key shortcoming in browsing on iOS 4 running on Apple’s iPad is that it doesn’t support Flash. Therefore, any Flash-based Web applications you might rely on will not work on the iPad. Beyond that, browsing on the iPad is an absolute treat.

Google’s Android 2.2 platform does support Flash, making it easy for employees to access any kind of information without much trouble. However, the browsing experience on Android 2.2 isn’t quite up to the standard Apple’s iOS platform sets.

RIM’s BlackBerry Tablet OS platform will support Flash when it ships later this year. In addition, RIM has said that the browsing experience will be quite appealing to users. But until its tablet and operating system launch, there’s no way to tell if it can live up to the hype.

Smartphone integration

Apple’s iOS 4 platform is available on the iPhone. .

Android 2.2 is available on several smartphones, including the Motorola Droid Pro, one of the more enterprise-friendly smartphones on the market.

RIM’s BlackBerry Tablet OS will integrate with BlackBerry smartphones. Users can tether their smartphones with the BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM itself has said that the operating system is designed with the idea that its tablet will be “amplifying your BlackBerry.” 

Tablet functionality

Apple’s iOS 4 is now fully functioning on the company’s iPad. What that means for enterprise customers is that it will provide a robust experience that shouldn’t cause any trouble in use. However, the majority of the App Store’s 300,000-plus applications are designed for the iPhone. 

Google’s Android 2.2 operating system was designed for smartphones first. In fact, Google has said that companies should wait until a tablet with its Android 3.0 OS is available — an idea that many manufacturers, including Motorola, agreed with. Android 2.2 is capable of running on a tablet, but it wasn’t designed for that form factor, and the experience of using it might not be ideal.

BlackBerry Tablet OS is designed specifically with tablets in mind. Realizing that, there shouldn’t be any trouble using it on such a form factor. That’s not to say there won’t be bugs — there could be — but considering the platform is designed for tablets, employees shouldn’t experience smartphone-based design quirks.

Hardware supported

Apple’s iOS platform is available only on the company’s iPad in the tablet space.

Android will be available on several tablets in 2011, including the Cisco Cius, Motorola Xoom, and several others from a host of vendors.

RIM’s BlackBerry Tablet OS will be available only on the company’s BlackBerry PlayBook when it launches later this year.

Productivity considerations

Overall, you should experience relatively strong productivity on Apple’s iOS 4 platform. The company’s iPad is what your employees are likely using at home, and it’s designed with the average user in mind. You might need to train those who haven’t even gotten their hands on an iPhone or iPad, but other than that, little training will be needed.

If you deploy Android in your operation, expect to engage in some training to ensure that employees know how to use the operating system. Android is not as user-friendly as iOS is, but it’s still designed extremely well for novices and advanced users alike. 

Your employees should feel right at home when they get their hands on the BlackBerry Tablet OS. It will feature many of the same options familiar from their BlackBerry devices, but include a the intuitive interface they may have gotten accustomed to from their iPhone or iPad at home. Some training will be required, but it should be relatively minimal.

Source: CIO Insight, March 2011

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