Smooth operators

Joe Malone

Copy Producer

Updated February 2015

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.

New Apple iPad Air 2, Apple A8X, iOS 8, 9.7", Wi-Fi, 64GB, Silver


Available exclusively on Apple iPads, it's 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, sending messages and e-mail access, viewing maps and news updates, taking notes and for experiencing videos, music, pictures and books. 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.

Windows 8

Windows devices are intended to bring desktop computer functionality to a portable tablet. Running on the same system you’d find on a Windows laptop or desktop PC means that there are already a vast amount of programs available for just about any function you can think of. There are also dedicated tablet apps available from the Windows Store that are designed for touch screen use, many of them similar to those available from Apple and Google’s stores. Like with Android, Windows devices are designed by a number of manufacturers including Microsoft’s own Surface Pro, which delivers high power processing in an attempt to truly replace your PC.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM, Windows 8.1 Pro, 12", 64GB, Wi-Fi, Silver


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.

Because Android is open to more manufacturers, you’ll find a more diverse selection available, with various form factors and designs available. Versions of Android are named after confectionaries, increasing in alphabetical order- for example, recent examples include ‘Jelly Bean’ (J), ‘KitKat’ (K) and ‘Lollipop’ (L). Updates to the operating system are free, but are released at the discretion of the manufacturer. 

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.

Some Android devices, such as the Amazon Fire, modify the system heavily, to present a simpler interface focused on digital video, music and book consumption, while others, like with the Samsung’s Galaxy tablets make more subtle changes, for example, allowing you have two windows open on one screen. Google’s own Nexus devices, run an unchanged version of Android, that will get the latest updates as soon as they are available.

Amazon Fire HD 7 Tablet, Quad-core,
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 Tablet
Google Nexus 9 Tablet, NVIDIA Tegra K1