Tablets optimize

The death of the tablet OS

Patrick Gray believes that tablet mobile operating systems are beginning to take a back seat to the apps, content, and connectivity available on the devices. Do you agree?

We've all heard the quip "it's the apps, stupid" when it comes to explaining the success or failure of various manufacturers of mobile computing. Like most statements of this nature, there's a ray of truth to the concept, and the two leading tablet platforms -- Android and iOS -- are also the platforms with the largest app catalog. What's become interesting as of late is that the mobile operating system is now taking a back seat to the apps, content, and connectivity available on the device.

The most compelling demonstration of this shift is the recently announced Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon took a page from Apple's playbook and are short on technical details and hardware specifications of the device. They've even shrouded the operating system in a veil of mystery, billing it as a "heavily modified version of Android."

Amazon isn't playing coy or trying to keep us guessing. Rather, the operating system and underlying hardware are effectively irrelevant to what the device is trying to accomplish. You probably don't care whether the subway that carries you to work is made by Bombardier or Kawasaki Heavy Industries, you just want assurances that it will get you to work on time. Similarly, Amazon is betting that consumers don't necessarily care what's powering their tablet, as long as there's a compelling selection of games, movies, and shopping. The Fire is merely a vehicle to deliver a soup to nuts Amazon experience, and of course keep all that content revenue flowing into Amazon's coffers.

The shift will likely continue as various tablet manufactures see the hardware and OS increasingly as a ticket to their content delivery mechanism rather than an end in itself. On the application front, we're now cycling back to web-based applications instead of native code and looking to do storage and processing "in the cloud" rather than on a device.

This becomes relevant in the enterprise space, since the current agonizing decisions organizations make about which vendor to "lock in" will become less relevant. If tablet operating systems become little more than really smart web browsers, this is a boon to CIOs who can switch tablets at will or allow personal devices to easily connect to web-based corporate apps without entering the hardware procurement, maintenance, and tracking business.

Even in the larger enterprise technology space, we're continuing a gradual shift back to centralized applications, with the browser replacing the dumb terminals of yore. For tablets in particular, this makes life far easier for most companies, allowing tablets to act as near-disposable "dumb terminals" that can be purchased at commodity prices. This also helps centralize concerns around security and data, assuming little or no sensitive data ever resides on the device. Centrally locking application access alleviates many of the concerns around managing mobile devices.

To anticipate this shift, focus your energies on creating web-centric tablet applications or enhancing existing applications to support mobile OS-agnostic web applications instead of agonizing over Google Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich. The latter choice will soon become increasingly irrelevant, a state of affairs that lets you focus on the services and value offered by tablets as a whole, rather than weeding through the spec sheets and OS feature lists.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has...

18 comments
jc
jc

After buying my wife a discounted Android tablet at Costco, she started getting all twisted about what she could/couldn't do with the backgrounds and interface on the device. After thinking about it, I told her to look at this device as a window/portal to her apps and the Internet; nothing more. "That is where you will spend most of your time, so judge it based on that." For users like her, that is sufficient. Power users and IT pros fall into a different category. We want to push the boundaries and tweak this and that, to make any device run "better" than it was safely designed to. For now, it sounds like there is a need for both, robust (expensive) and streamline (affordable) Tablet OSs and devices. For me, it is the Galaxy 10" Tab. For my daughter's Christmas present, I rather like the idea of a $200 Tablet that I know she could very well break or lose! :)

mkottman
mkottman

Once again he was ahead of his time. When His Steveness launched the originial iPhone it only had web apps, no native apps. Of course it was a little premature at the time, but with faster processors and networks we are approaching that time.

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

Folks generally don't use any OS. They use the apps that run on it. Even if you want to extend that definition to include resident apps bundled with a device's resident OS, we're still talking about the relevance of applications, not the OS itself. On PCs, differences in OS platforms are moot. Most software developers have long had Mac or PC versions of their applications, and worked hard to ensure interoperability/interchange of files between platforms. On tablets, Apple has worked hard to ensure that app developers have to re-develop their programs for other platforms, rather than just "port them over", because they recognize that iOS is merely the conduit for carrying useful apps to users. That's what the so-called "walled garden" is all about; creating an environment where the most apps are available, at the expense of the competition. Even Apple recognizes that the tablet OS isn't an end in and of itself.

bsemma
bsemma

I've felt since the major influx of tablet devices that they are meant for the user who hasn't transitioned to a smartphone yet. I like some of the interfaces and a larger screen is nice but I still feel they are novelty. If the price point was down (significantly) I could see them as the "internet grabber" but if you can get a device with an optical drive, full keyboard, and a much faster processor, why bother with a tablet? Tablets are the overpriced Game Boy of the day, and I think your average customer sees them as a curious device between an iPod and laptop that has ditched some of the major conveniences of both. In reference to the cloud apps, I feel that a laptop computer still functions better with those type of apps verse a tablet, functionality and ergonomics FTW.

mswift
mswift

What most people need is an internet getter. The keyboard connected to the net via the TV is all most people need. That option is falling under $100 on the price of a new TV. The TV makers should win this one. Indeed some of the new tablets are coming from TV and monitor makers. When people realize that voice to text now works right with Mango and Siri, smartphones will be enough for most people. A bluetooth headset and half a cubic inch of something in your pocket or purse will get you the answer to any question and connect you to anyone in the world. The best OS in that case is no OS.

sjdorst
sjdorst

For most consumers, the OS is indeed becoming irrelevant. However, for power users, the OS is still an important distinction. I'd avoided iOs for a number of reasons, until I recently won an iPad2 in a contest. And while it does most tasks well - and notifications have been significantly improved in iOs 5 - app integration is WAY behind Android. On Android, when Twitter emails me a notice that someone is following me, and I click on the link to their profile, Android ASKS me which app I want to use! And I choose my preferred Twitter client (Hoot Suite) and check the "don't ask me again". Now, presto, ANY link to a Twitter profile, from ANY app, uses my preferred client. Can you do this in iOs? No! I've come to have a LOT of apps that I prefer for handling different urls. And all iOs does is open Safari. OK, some iOs apps have their own built in browsers - which I appreciate because iOs has no "back" button that goes "back" to the last app - but that's just a browser and, depending on the content, I still need to take the "Safari" option from the "share" button in the app specific browser. So if you want to have a completely customizable phone or pad experience, Android still beats iOs hands down, and that's an OS function that is very relevant to power users!

dhays
dhays

In general, he is probably right about the OS, not necessarily being dead, but being irrelevant. As long as you can do what you need to do, the brand of OS/machine is of no matter. I would say the same goes for any computer--as long as you can do what you need to do, what ever application--full fledged office product or a hampered version (e.g. Microsoft Works), it makes no difference of the OS, because most of us never do anything below the UI. Sure there are differences in the procedures and capabilities in the OS, it then becomes the user's responsibility to find a unit that will do what they want to do.

kitkimes41
kitkimes41

It's true that if all you want a tablet for is to read email, search the web and have a large screen navigation system, the present Android versions are good enough. I like the idea of a touch tablet but it has to have a real OS on it. Either a MAC or Windows system would work as long as I can add a linux dual boot OS. It has to have all the functionality of a netbook/notebook. Until then, I'll keep my hard earned cash in my pocket.

mleisdon
mleisdon

While I do agree that I can do about 80% of my activity when connected to the Internet from any device, I prefer that it's dedicated to this function (and supports Flash, or the web developers would make mobile-friendly versions.) I'd rather have something portable; and from my experience, screen resolution for computing on most tvs is terrible. Voice to text is handy, but as a visual person, I need at least a 7" screen for anything that I really care about, so half a cubic inch just doesn't do it for me.

tech
tech

Vast swaths of consumers are moving to the cloud in droves, making the OS of the device less and less relevant. A lot of those cloud apps do most of the heavy lifting for you, making the hardware your OS runs on less relevant. You see this everywhere (except gaming, video editing and a few others) and I don't know if it will change anytime soon. We have seen this before, back in the mainframe days, where the terminal really didn't matter, all that mattered was that it spoke the right protocols and could connect to the server. This is becoming more true now with people demanding access to their data from everywhere, despite security or other concerns. There are a lot of drivers for this, including: 1. SAS (Software as a service) - Software companies like this, because they don't even have to give you a copy of the code 2. Less expensive hardware for end devices - Companies like that they can produce the device for less and leave the heavy lifting to the server farms. This makes their devices cheaper to produce and by in large more appealing to consumers. 3. Smaller, more portable devices - Again this is market driven, so that is where its' headed. I don't carry a briefcase much, or even a notepad, just an Android Tablet goes with me to all my meetings. It does everything thing I need in 98% of the meetings. In reality, I could probably use it for 85+% of all my needs right now. 4. Data Mining - By having things in the cloud, it makes it much easier to do the data mining that large corporations crave, even the good ones that will not totally sell personally identifiable info, will certainly sell it in aggregate. There are less and less objections to this every day. I could go on with several more points, but you (and I) are rapidly becoming the minority. I do video editing, and several other things that require me to keep the 'real OS' as you phrase it, but I am in the minority and even my Android tablet can do basic video editing, so the times they are a changing. Even though I am still not wild about the cloud, and there are concerns. Even though I still have needs for high powered desktops and "real OS's" I recognize that I am in the minority. If I am going to keep my clients happy I need to at least know where the leading edge is, and make certain that they do not get left behind with large, bulky irrelevant systems. I need to be sure they have the tools to help them succeed. As the old saying goes, lead, follow or get out of the way!

ScarF
ScarF

between the consumers and enterprise. For the most of the consumers, the tablet is nothing else but another walkman. This supports my opinion that the tablets gained market climbing on the shoulders of eReaders - the real gadget revolution 2-3 years ago. Before the eReaders, the tablets were nothing on the market. And, indeed, the eReader's user doesn't give a penny about the OS, but functionality. This is also correct when talking about the majority of consumers and tablets. However, when talking about the enterprise space I see the things differently. Not only many companies are reluctant in using the "cloud" for storing their valuable data, but the IT doesn't have the necessary tools for integrating the tablets in the infrastructure, or is very difficult. When one says about the OS as becoming irrelevant in the enterprise space, it sound more wishful thinking - I dare to say targeted against MS Windows so widely present in the companies' IT infrastructure. Of course, not a new nor original wish. But, when having everything around Microsoft technologies, the IT will always look at the OS and how well it integrates with the rest of the systems. So, NO, the OS will continue to be a factor in deciding to use one tablet or another in the enterprise, and Windows 8 will definitely give the necessary cold shower to the bloated market of tablets and their inpatient consumers.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Why do you think Blackberry is losing market in the enterprise? Because consumers (not the enterprise) DEMAND to use iPhones and Android phones in the enterprise. So now most enterprises allow the use of iPhones and Android phones." What plays a bigger factor is enterprises saw a way out of paying for phones for their employees. It's cheaper to use a device the employee is willing to pay for out of his own pocket. If the employee doesn't have his own phone, the company is probably going to buy whatever it can get with the quickest ROI. In those cases, the employee's desires usually aren't a factor. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as apply to any other portion of this discussion.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

AutoCAD has a viewer out for Android tablets. It could probably handle some Solidworks, too. Now, actually WORKING on things would be grating, but for presentation or review, it's super handy.

tech
tech

that you don't need to rely on a "Real OS" with the cloud. The entire point of the cloud is to make sure that the OS of the end device does not matter. As I have stated before, I think most of the world will rely on the private cloud and not on a public cloud, but even that is irrelevant. These are the same tired arguments made about File and Print Servers years ago, "but if the server is down I can't access my docs", well guess what that is not much of a problem, networks were built to handle it. The same thing is happening again, this time without the wires, and with more options for access. Sure for the foreseeable future there will be desktops, but they will blend with tablets. Tablets aren't going anywhere anymore than the desktop is. However, I think the Microsoft OS on the desktop is in trouble long term, and I have read that they know that too.

tech
tech

for a "real OS" and specialized software, but that is becoming more the exception than the rule. I worked for a manufacturing company up until about 7 years ago, and even back then they relied on a lot of systems that were not MS based, for a lot of things from printing labels to the inventory control system, to the computer controlled hardware. None of which used, by your definition, a 'real OS'. I am still in contact with a lot of people that work for that company, and they now use Android tablets for the Quality Control people, and in Shipping and Receiving, and in other areas too. They don't run Microsoft, and in some cases they don't even access systems that run Microsoft. With the protracted state of the economy that will only force all businesses to ask "Do I really need to pump this many $$$$ into software license". The answer is no you don't. I answer that question at least once a week for various companies I contract with. I do agree most that the public cloud will not become the repository for most business, but the private cloud, as previously stated, certainly will. The whole point of 'The Cloud' is that it is OS agnostic as to what devices connect to it, which opens the door to tablets (Apple or Android, or Windows, or ????) and other devices regardless of the OS. Without the cloud the rest falls pretty much flat on its face and you would be correct. But the cloud, as a private cloud, I think will be here to stay for SMB and enterprise. In all truth it will probably be a mesh of public and private cloud as the best overall solution. Of course this is driven more by the management than anything else. If someone has an attitude like yours and refuses to advance with the times, then the answer is no and the companies profitability suffers. Actually the relevance of the OS for Blu-Ray is probably mute anyway, most people subscribe to a service such as Netflix, which can of course be played on Android or Apple devices, or purchase via a cloud service. Blu-Ray movie sales have been a lot lower than expectations likely due to the DRM, not that the Movie industry would ever admit that, they blame it all on piracy, which is a farce. It is their arrogance. that has cost them their sales. As for the iApple* stuff that already doesn't require a 'real OS' either as they can be sync'd with MAC or Windows (linux if you know what you are doing), and many people (some 40+% of the phone market) prefer Android in order to avoid lock in to a specific OS or other software.

ScarF
ScarF

When talking about cloud and tablets, I am always being hit with the law firm and doctors businesses. Well, good for them. They have a business model which may be implemented on these kind of architectures. I work for a manufacturing company. I don't see anytime soon AutoCAD on tablet's display. And, I don't see anytime soon our executives happy to move the data in the cloud at the WAN's tantrum. Of course, should we adopt tablets, they will be for some mobile employees and replacing their BBs. And, of course, we may also use the cloud but, a private cloud on our servers, on our LAN, with our security and privacy policies, and with our disaster recovery procedures. And, again, because most of the above will be using Microsoft systems, the tablets have to be Microsoft. Again, I have no doubt that the tablets will find their place in the enterprise. I am amazed they haven't in more than 10 years on the market - probably due to stupid marketing from HP & others. But, the tablets widely accepted by the companies will have to support 100% the current infrastructure with everything attached. And, that is Microsoft. So, again, NO, the OS will not loose any of its importance as it happens for Blu-Ray players, 3D-TVs, iPods, iPads or other toys.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

In one or two more seasons tablets will have processing power enough to run a real OS. The cloud isn't less relevant on a fully fledged OS. But a tablet that's crippled when the net is patchy will always be irrelevant, an "extra" device at most.

tech
tech

Why do you think Blackberry is losing market in the enterprise? Because consumers (not the enterprise) DEMAND to use iPhones and Android phones in the enterprise. So now most enterprises allow the use of iPhones and Android phones. Guess what an iPad or Android tablet is a simple extension of that. I work for several SMBs and they all are clamoring for access to systems from iPads, Android Tablets, iPhones, Android phones..... I am not wild about cloud storage either, but that is where the market is headed. Even huge enterprises are moving away from traditional "File and print Servers" and into "Document Management Systems" I see this all over, look at hospitals, Doctor offices, Law Office (I work for a law office with more than 20 attorneys). At one time I had 18 attorneys on BES, now I have 2, the rest are using Android Phones and tablets, and the iPhones or iPads. I have had a couple of the partners approach me about removing their computers, they much prefer their tablets. For now that is not feasible, but you can bet that will factor into my plans for their future. As the end user, they expect no less. Again the document management systems and other web based software make this much simpler than it was back in the day. Yes many companies are not sold on using the Microsoft, Google, or Amazon clouds, but private clouds are a very different story, and they are used more and more every day in SMBs and in then enterprise. I am forced more and more to interface our systems with those of huge insurance companies and medical providers, and I can assure you that they are moving to document management and private clouds. The days of everything Microsoft are indeed coming to an end. It will take while but it will happen unless Microsoft becomes a lot more competitive price wise and a lot more open toward the idea of using open formats... I would say the law firm is on the leading edge, of firms at least in our area. I am frequently complemented on the advanced nature of the firm. One whole department is now 'paperless' and no longer even keeps a paper file. Do you think those files are kept in a MS file server? No! The Document system can be accessed from anything, but the Case Management system is Windows based. I expect that will change in the next few years, and goto a web based system that will not require Windows. When that happens I expect tablet use will explode in the firm.. I don't think they will replace all the computers, but probably a significant portion of the attorneys and others who don't need to do a lot of typing will migrate to the tablets. So the death of the tablet is much exaggerated. Quite the contrary, as businesses want more from their employees, tablets are a natural extension to the enterprise, giving them reach far outside their offices.