I recently engaged in an online discussion (http://starryhope.com) in which a Linux user asked for advice on what tablet might be best for him. I replied that the choice should be based on the capabilities of the tablet and not upon the desktop OS. I suggested that an Apple iPad was just as suitable for a Linux user as it was for a Mac or Windows person. My remarks were quickly and severely criticised by people who beleived that an installation of iTunes on the desktop was a necessity for an iPad and that there is no Linux version of iTunes. A few years ago this was true, but since the release of iOS 5 in the fall of 2011 it is not. In this post I will detail the current situation and explain why the iPad might be a good choice for any tablet purchaser.
iTunes began its life as a music “ripper” and music manager. It was liked by some and disliked by others, including myself. When the iOS family of products began to appear, Appple upgraded it with features to allow it to act as a “server” that would enable a user to install apps and data in the iOS device. To this day it still does that and does it well. Many users have grown accustomed to the routine of adding apps and data into iTunes, tethering the device to the desktop via USB and finally syncing the two to download the material into the device. However, both users and developers quickly realized that iOS devices are wireless and it should be possible to perform the operation wirelessly without having to tether the device. Apps (GooodReader for example) began to appear that had built-in web servers. On the desktop the user could launch almost any browser to act as a client and upload data to the app. The apps themselves were directly installable on the devices via the Apple App store client pre-installed on every iOS device.
The situation further improved when Apple introduced and allowed developers to include an import/export tool in the otherwise closed file system. Users know this as the “Open In” button. With this tool the user was no longer limited to using data in the app that received it from the desktop. It also enabled the functionality of cloud services such as Dropbox. On the desktop one simply drops his data into his Dropbox account. On the iPad he/she selects it an opens it in the app of choice with the “Open In” button. Good Bye iTunes we don’t need you anymore. For those that love you, you are now a comfortable old shoe.
Well not quite until the release of iOS 5. Prior to that release you still needed iTunes to upgrade the firmware between releases. iOS 5 has the upgrade ability built-in. If you have an earlier version you’ll still need iTunes to get to version 5. After the upgrade, Windows and Mac users might not want to delete iTunes just yet. It’s use is still required if you intend to jailbreak your iPad. This perhaps is the only desktop related decision than a Linux user must make. The hackers that develop jail breaking software have only Mac and Windows versions. You cannot jailbreak an iOS device with a Linux desktop.
What then is the relationship between the tablet and desktop computer? The new tablet user will quickly find apps to run and enjoy on the tablet. Personally I do a lot of reading on my iPad and I like news apps such as Zite and Flipboard. Your tastes might be different. In any case you will find some activities more enjoyable on the tablet and others will remain on your desktop machine. There will be some cross-over and that is where the the dats transfer methods discussed above will come into play. For example if you obtain files on your desktop via bittorrent you will need to send these to the iPad as described above.
Competing with the Apple device are a variety of tablets with OS’s that use the Linux kernel. The primary competing OS is Android and the many devices that run it. Android users obtain and install apps from Google’s official Android Market or, depending on the device, Amazon’s App Store. There are others too and a “rooted” Android gadget may have access to several. The mechanics of software installation and dats transfer is quite similar with the exception that the Android file system is more open and more traditional than iOS. A large amount of software is available for Android. Some very good apps are cross-platform. The Dolphin web browser is a good example.However, there are some iOS apps that I use on a regular basis for which I cannot find suitable Android equivalents. Note Taker HD and similar iOS handwriting apps are good examples. While there are several good handwriting note taking apps for iOS, there are none comparable for Android.
Developers use the term “fragmented” when talking about Android. There are many different display screen sizes on the variety of Android devices and other significant differences in hardware configurations. there are only two sizes of iOS screens and the larger one (iPad) is exactly twice the width and height of the smaller (iPhone). It is much less of a challenge for developers and perhaps a reason for more powerful software.
Over time any device will become obsolete. In my experience I can usually expect an Apple device to be upgradeable for three years or more. My first generation iPad, now over two years old, is running the version of iOS (5.1) as my new third generation machine. No, I cannot install camera software as cameras were introduced on the iPad 2 and do not exist on the first iPad. Android has been upgraded quickly with only a few months between releases. First there was Cupcake, followed by Gingerbread and Honeycomb and now Ice Cream Sandwich. The upgrade path on an Android machine is not at all clear and on some devices might not not even be possible.
Finally we come to the issue of price. Apple hardware has traditionally been more expensive than the competition. The price differential in the tablet market is not nearly as great as it is on desktops. With a “not so big” difference the iPad is outselling the competion by wide margins. One hopeful, the HP Touchpad, which BTW had many very good reviews, entered the market and then left after only 45 days claiming they could not compete and be profitable at the same time. Another competitor, the Samsung Galaxy, also is getting very good reviews. Apple is suing Samsung for patent infringement and if they win, the Galaxy will disappear from the U.S. marketplace. IMHO it appears that consumers are willing to spend a little more money on a product that they can expect to enjoy several years into the future.
I have not gone into great detail on the specifics of data transfer. Any reader who needs help with this can contact me with a question to which I will either directly reply or send a link to an appropriate tutorial.