Operating System - OS
The capabilities of the iPad iOS software are fairly well-known. The interface is starkly simple, with just pages and pages of icons populating the homescreen interface. However, it's very slick and easy to use. What's more, Apple's app store is still by far the biggest available and tends to get the latest games, in particular, before many other platforms. Also, emerging media like The Daily are using the iPad as their primary launch platform so if you're into that sort of thing, you're likely to get it first here.
However, limitations include the lack of true multi-tasking (you can't actually view two programs at once), widgets to put on the homepage, and Adobe Flash support in the web browser. The latter means you can't view the videos embedded on the BBC website for instance, or play flash games. In contrast, all the competing tablets offer the latter feature, giving them a trump card from the off. iOS also trails in some more subtle ways, like its social network integration - most of the alternatives make it much easier to combine all your messages and contacts into one view.
The Optimus Pad, Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Toshiba Tablet all run Android 3.0, which is the new tablet-specific version of Google's Android smartphone operating system. It also doesn't have multi-tasking that allows for two windows to be fully visible at once but it does have a thumbnail interface for switching between apps. In contrast iOS only shows the icons for the apps you have open, in one long list along the bottom.
Android 3.0 also allows for quite sophisticated desktop widgets, enabling you to see a whole host of information, like the weather, Facebook updates and the latest news from a glance. You can also control things like Wi-Fi and Aeroplane mode via switches on the desktop, saving you from having to dive into menus.
Android also has the second largest app store, the Android Market, so it's generally next quickest to get the latest silly game, or more useful app.
The HTC Flyer runs Android 2.4, which is the latest version of the phone-based Android OS. As such it's a much more portrait-oriented interface. It also means it requires the Home, Menu and Back buttons of Android phones, which have been resigned to software buttons on Android 3.0. Cleverly HTC has made these work in both portrait and landscape mode by using disappearing touch-sensitive buttons, hidden in the bezel.
You also lose some of the native tablet-oriented apps of Android 3.0 but HTC has heavily customised the interface so most apps still have a more desktop-style appearance, rather than the single-window style of smartphones. The key advantage of HTC's opting for Android 2.x is that it still supports conventional voice calls (Android 3.0 only supports Skype-style VOIP calls like iOS), meaning it really is like a large smartphone.
Moving onto the WebOS of the HP TouchPad, its advantages are subtle. Primarily there's the superb multi-tasking interface that makes getting multiple things done markedly easier than on an iOS device, though it still can't show two things running at the same time. Apps are arranged as large thumbnails, called cards, that appear in a row across the desktop. You can swipe between them, rearrange their order, stack related apps together, and close them with the flick of a finger. It's probably the closest any of these tablets comes to feeling like a desktop working environment.
Then there's the sheer slickness of the interface and its apps. More so even than iOS, WebOS feels really well thought-out and refined.
One clever addition is Synergy, which allows multiple apps to access and add to your contacts, calendar and messages apps. So you can have all your Facebook, Twitter, text, IM, and messages in one place, see all your goings on from one calendar, and tie all the ways you communicate with someone to one contact. The best bit is that it's a completely open platform so it doesn't require a whole new version of the OS to support a new service, just download the service (say, a new social networking site), give it permission to access Synergy and you're away.
What you can't do with WebOS, however, is add icons and widgets to the homescreen - you must open the app launcher to start an app. Also, it's biggest issue is the small range of apps available. WebOS has been around for a couple of years now but the platform has never really taken off, meaning that apps are slow to appear on it.
Finally we come to the PlayBook, and its big trump card is that you can literally multitask. Minimise a video and it will continue running in a thumbnailed form, and can continue to do so when you fullscreen another app. Likewise you can do this with any other combination of apps.
In truth, we're actually not too sure how useful this is as for true multi-tasking to really work you need a proper windows style interface for managing your workspace, rather than a thumbnail driven taskbar. However, it's certainly a cool feature to have.
The rest of the interface is very easy to use, though it's the OS we've had least time to really get to grips with. Of course, it will work in conjunction with BlackBerry phones, and the company sees the tablet as a working tool to accompany a phone as much as a play device to have at home.
The QNX platform's biggest hurdle, though, is its completely new app store. While iOS, Android, and even WebOS to a certain degree have become established, QNX is brand new, so we wouldn't be surprised if it takes a long time for the latest apps to become available for the PlayBook.