Who will win the Tablet OS war?

Of the five big names in the Tablet PC OS market, who will emerge dominant?

March 31, 2011
Who will win the Tablet OS war?

The question I have been asking myself over the past month is a very simple one, and one which I would guess is being asked by many of the companies making the growing range of of tablet PC devices and the operating systems that drive them: which factors will decide which companies come out on top in the long run and can we learn anything from the history of the PC?

In the PC world it was the relentless pursuit of global domination by Microsoft that ensured that Windows ended up as the de-facto desktop operating system for almost the entire globe. There were a couple of other factors in play and of those, the ability of Windows to run on hardware built by multiple manufacturers was probably the most important of the lot.

While Microsoft might have published minimum and recommended specifications to run its operating systems, there were always plenty of hardware vendors who were happy to slap Windows onto a minimum spec machine and let the consumer wonder why the thing ran slower than a chicken through molasses.

In the tablet PC operating system game we currently have four players: HP (Web OS); Apple (iOS); Google (Android); and RIM (QNX Playbook OS). Microsoft is expected to soon enter the fray with a Tablet PC version of Windows.

Tablets

Of the five mentioned above, only two – Google and Microsoft – have an open approach to hardware platforms, and of those two, only Google has an operating system that can take on the low-end of the market.

Microsoft has yet to produce a tablet PC version of Windows, but we can expect that they may take a similar approach to their vendor requirements for using Windows Phone 7 (WP7).

In an effort to ensure that WP7 runs well on mobile devices, Microsoft has set a minimum hardware specification that manufacturers have to meet before they can put WP7 on their products. Microsoft may take a similar approach to the tablet PC market, thereby restricting a Windows tablet PC OS to the high end of that market.

Today there aren’t a lot of cheap tablet computers knocking around, in fact you can still buy a PC for less than a tablet, but this is unlikely to last forever. Sooner or later there will be a plethora of tablets with many of them targeting the lower end of the market. The question is: which operating system will the majority of these tablets be running?

I can tell you what they won’t be running; it won’t be iOS, WebOS or QNX. These are all bonded to hardware manufacturers that might play for the low-end but still have to maintain brand standards. Microsoft might be a player, but so far it is behind the game. They would probably have to release a ‘Windows Tablet Lite OS’ to cater for the low-end of the market.

If I were a betting man, I would be putting my money on Android. With broader platform compatibility, an open architecture, and the deep pockets of Google to fund continued development, Android is clearly the front-runner to deliver an operating system for the next generation of tablet devices.

This ‘next-gen’ tablet device won’t simply be a toy for geeks and hipsters, but something that will be as affordable as mobile phones are today.

Who do you think will win the Tablet OS war? << Share your thoughts on the MyBroadband forum

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