Smooth operators

Joe Malone

Copy Producer

Windows, Android, iOS, Jelly Beans: a look at tablet operating systems

An operating system (or OS) is a platform that tablets and computers use to run apps and games. The tablet market is dominated by three operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows. Though you’ll find many different manufacturers designing tablets, the majority of them will rely on one of these big three developers to provide the operating system. They operate on the same basic principles: touch screen interface and apps to access content, but each has its unique values to suit your needs.

iOS, available exclusively on Apple iPads, is heralded because of its simplicity and the wide range of apps and games available from Apple’s App Store. It comes pre-loaded with apps for internet browsing, e-mail access, note taking and for experiencing videos, music and pictures. The App Store contains a huge amount of high quality apps and games, regulated by Apple to ensure nothing inappropriate or malicious can touch your system.

Android is a much more customisable option, with the ability to change anything from the home screen to the notification window to fit your desire. It’s licensed to various different manufacturers by Google, and is open source, meaning that it can be altered by the licensee to suit the needs of their tablet. Some devices, such as the NOOK modify the system heavily, to suit their needs for watching videos, listening to music and reading books; others, like with the Samsung Galaxy Note make more subtle changes, for example, allowing you have two windows open on one screen.

Google’s Play Store serves as a portal to apps, games, books, videos and music, with anyone free to develop their own content to put on the Play Store. Versions of Android are named after confectioneries, increasing in alphabetical order; for example, recent examples include ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ (I) and ‘Jelly Bean’ (J). Updates to the operating system are free, but are released at the discretion of the manufacturer. Google’s Nexus devices, run an unchanged version of Android, meaning that they’ll get updates as soon as they are available.

Google Nexus devices

Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 optimised for tablets. Like Google, Microsoft license their OS to different manufacturers, like Samsung, as well as producing their own tablet: the Surface. With apps available exclusively from the Windows Store, Windows RT may not be able to run all of the programs you’re used to on your Windows computer, but it still contains a wide variety of apps to challenge iOS and Android devices. Windows RT devices also include a version of Microsoft Office straight out of the box - unlike the other operating systems, where Microsoft Office is unavailable (though alternatives do exist).

Windows 8 mixes the touch screen interface of Windows RT with the functionality seen in Windows 7 computers to give you the fullest possible laptop replacement. Apps are available from the Windows Store as well as from the web through any trusted sources you may have used with your computer before. Although not many Windows 8 tablets are currently available, convertible laptops have been designed to transform into a tablet, giving you the best of both worlds and are designed by a number of manufacturers.

To see them in action, you can view our video on choosing the right computer operating system.