Apple, since launching its first iPad in 2010, has dominated the tablet market. But Apple leaves plenty of gaps in the tablet market, allowing competitors ample fighting room. For example, Apple tablets don't run Adobe Flash, which can be critical for watching videos on some websites.
Apple runs its proprietary operating system on the iPad, a virtual replica of the operating system seen in iPhones and iPod Touches. Most other tablets on the market use a version of Google's Android operating system. There are various versions currently used on tablets -- Google tends to name Android operating systems after desserts, the most recent version being Jelly Bean (4.1). More recent Android updates including Jelly Bean, Ice Cream Sandwich and Honeycomb have been tablet-specific operating systems; previous version such as Froyo and Gingerbread were made for smartphones before being repurposed for tablets.
Screen sizes on tablets range from about 7" to about 11". The majority of major Android-based tablets offer 10.1" diagonal screens. Apple's iPad 2 comes in at 9.7". Popular 7-inch tablets include the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and the Toshiba Thrive 7.
Most tablets tip the scales at little more than a pound, but the difference in weight between a 1.3-pound unit and a 1.7-pound unit is important to some customers. The iPad 2 weighs about 1.35 pounds, but has a smaller screen than some other tablets. The Toshiba Thrive, a 10.1" device, is one of the heftiest units, weighing about 1.7 pounds.
Wi-Fi vs 3G/4G
All tablets will offer Wi-Fi connectivity, but some also operate on smartphone networks and have 3G and 4G network access. The New iPad offers 4G data plans through both AT&T and Verizon. Wi-Fi produces a much faster Internet connection on devices, and it is what allows streaming of videos through services such as Netflix. Most 3G/4G plans cost about $20-$80 per month; some, but not all, require a two-year contract with the provider.
Most tablets offer front- and rear-facing cameras that can be used for taking still photos as well as videos. Most also offer high-definition video capabilities. Apple's iPad 2 offers one of the lowest-quality cameras available in tablets, with less than 1 megapixel available on both front and back; the New iPad, by contrast, offers a 5 megapixel rear camera. Several Android-based tablets including Motorola's Xyboard and Toshiba's Thrive offer also offer 5 megapixel rear cameras. The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity raises the bar by offering an 8MP rear camera.
Flash support is an important feature for many customers, and it's not offered on iPads. Adobe Flash is what runs videos on some websites; without the support, the videos are not playable. Flash is supported on most Android-based tablets.
Apple dominates the applications market, offering more than 225,000 apps that are made specifically for tablets. But Apple also had a head start over other platforms. The Google Play market of Android apps has a significantly smaller tablet-specific app market with just a few thousand applications (Google wont provide specific figures). The majority of Android apps are created for smartphones and adopted for tablets with varying levels of success.
Connectivity options are another area iPads fail to excel in: Aside from a headphone jack port and the Apple-specific connection, there are no other holes cracking the iPad's shell. In contrast, Toshiba's Thrive offers ports, ports and more ports including HDMI, an SD card slot, a USB port and a mini-USB port. Asus' Transformer series of tablets offer an array of connectivity options including an HDMI port for mirroring images on a TV screen, an micro SD card slot for additional storage. Add the optional dock and there's a full-size SD card reader and a USB port.
With Apple dominating the tablet market, it's a sure bet the tablet accessory market is mainly geared toward iPads. Accessories include protective shields to car chargers to wireless keyboards and charging docks. Pricing on accessories is relatively consistent across the platform. Protective cases/stands cost $20-$60; screen shields cost $20-$30; wireless keyboards cost $70-$150.