Instead of a longer article I intended to write, actually started but will never finish.
Not long ago, about two months, I had never really touched a tablet computer, wondering what they were actually good for. Now my household owns an incredible number of two tablets: An android device - the Acer Iconia A200 - bought simply out of curiosity and an Apple iPad 3, sponsored by my employer. So I'm in the quite decadent position to compare the two big tablet platforms, which I'm gonna do in a brief way now.
The Acer Iconia A200 is a good device, in the true meaning of that word. Because everything about it that you could describe would be given a "good" rating. Not great, but also not "barely sufficient". The screen is of good quality, even for someone knowing the recent iPad, also form factor, weight and performance are decent. It is able to do everything you would want to do with a tablet, thanks to its Android 4.0 OS which also absolutely fits into the "good" category. Some nice little improvements over previous versions, good tablet optimizations but still large room for improvement. Especially regarding tablet apps.
The iPad 3 is, by all means, simply a stunning piece of hardware. Its just a good feeling to hold it, own it, feel the cold metal surface. It just has that typical Apple finish. Do I need to express how marvelous the screen is? It is simply print media quality, enough said. Weight-wise it is nominally not that much lighter than the acer but still manages to suggest some additional weight comfort, maybe just because it is way slimmer.
It would be a great device if not for iOS. Some of my reservations regarding tables originate in the fact that tablet operating systems don't dare to view their device as a complete computer. This is true of android and the more for iOS. I know this is what makes them actually usable for a larger demography, but it's not the first time that where everyone sees possibilities I see limits.
Just one example: iOS completely hides its file system. Every application only accesses those "documents" that are intended for it (or which it is able to find). I tried hard to transfer a PDF from a desktop computer to the iPad and read it there. I failed. Yes, I tried the old fashioned way - manually transmit it as a file from device a to b, first really via file access, then via mail and finally via Ubuntu One Cloud - rather than using the Apple iCloud service (whose terms and conditions are creepy like a horror novel and which transmits everything anywhere, no matter where I actually need things). I own the device, I have the file, I want to use it on my device. Still, no way without using some "optional" service or pay for file manager apps.
UI Struggles. Android has a solid "back" button, which will always take me back where I came from step by step. Not on iOS. I frequently wonder how to get rid of that dialog I just opened without going all the way back to the main screen via "the button". I found out that touching somewhere out of the dialog does the trick, yet a horrible, unintuitive way of doing it, leaving me still wondering if changes done in the dialog would go into effect. The same could be said for the "menu" button which is obligatory on Android but ever changing on iOS apps. And don't get me started about those "preferences" that are offered: iOS Developers seem so frightened of confusing their users that they reduce the customization possibilities of their apps to near-to-zero. There are honorable exceptions (Kindle App), but generally I have given up on trying to tweak things which I find uncomfortable.
So, do I know now what tablets are actually good for? They are nice devices to consume web media, but in my opinion not that much better that would justify another expensive purchase. I had some fun browsing in the Google+ app (on android) and reading pocket pages (on iPad). I watched some movie clips. I even bought and played a game (#sworcery). Nice things, but not 300-euro-nice actually. Not even my familiy, never reluctant to shiny consumer devices, was taken by storm by these gadgets. They tried, found them neat, but are not really attracted by them.
So, one thing has to be true: Either we are not yet ready for this new type of device and use it the wrong way (quite possible), or the tablet market is vastly over-estimated and tablets will take their place as "toyware" between netbooks and notebooks, but will never really make any of them obsolete. There might be game changers still to come, like... well, games! Tablet games might evolve to interpret the tablets possibilities in a quite innovative way, and we know people pay big money just for gaming devices. Yet I do not see this. Ok, I didn't really try, so don't take my word for it.
Also, things could get interesting once digital print media subscriptions for tablets really get cost-effective for publishers and readers alike. This is something where I wonder why it hasn't happened yet. Publishers: You don't need to buy loads of paper, print it and send it across the country into every single small village. You just need to write it, do layout and distribute it digitally (including DRM, which still should be way cheaper). Shouldn't that allow for an exceptional bargain of a newspaper subscription, even if not all the benefit is given to the subscriber?