A Tale of Two Tablets: the (new) Apple iPad (2012) vs. Android (ASUS Transformer Prime)

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The objective of this series of posts will be to shed some light on the question: which is the better tablet platform, iOS 5.1 or an Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet. I’ll be using the latest iPad, the “new” iPad, a.k.a. the iPad 3, and the ASUS Transformer Prime (ATP) for the comparison. It’s possible that I could consider other Android tablets, but as of right now in mid-April, this pair seems the most relevant.

Anyone who’s followed any of my writing over the last few years knows that I’ve never been a very big Apple fan. I’ve questioned many of their design decisions, disliking the form over function that’s crept into many of their products. And, I think Apple is leading the charge down a slippery slope of simplicity with a concomitant sacrifice of functionality. At the same time, there’s no doubt that Apple does some things very right, and the iPad is a good example. There’s a great deal to like about it, and the decision between an iPad and a very good Android tablet isn’t as easy as sales numbers would suggest.

I’ll be taking this relatively slowly, because I want to be fair to both platforms. And I’ll also strive to be as honest and objective as I can. As I said, I’m not the biggest Apple fan, but I’m doing nobody any good if I merely set up a straw man. If the iPad wins out in the end, then so be it. I’ll admit as much, and put my money where my mouth is by committing to the iPad as my daily driver.

As an aside, while I’m not specifically comparing the iPhone to Android smartphones, the same conclusions could likely be drawn in that platform war as well. However, even as I’ve used the iPad after more than a year of using Honeycomb and then Ice Cream Sandwich Android tablets, I don’t see myself even considering giving up my Android smartphone where making a switch to the iPad is at least conceivable to me at this point. There’s something about the large-screen format that not only makes the tablet different from the smartphone in a generic sense, but that seems to amplify the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms and to alter the equation significantly. In short, I wouldn’t even dream of switching to the iPhone, because what seem like iPad strengths wouldn’t necessarily translate to smaller form factor.

Speaking of the iPad, here are my very initial thoughts after using it for less than a day: that “Retina screen” (a particular objectionable marketing buzzword that offends my sensibilities even as a marketer) is absolutely stunning. It lives up to the hype, and then some. In fact, it’s almost hypnotic, and even as I find myself very much disliking some aspects of iOS (which, of course, I’ll cover in later posts), that screen keeps me coming back. And, it’s not only the high resolution, which makes text a dream to look at and a different level of comfortable to read. It’s also the colors, and the contrast.

Compared to the ATP, the iPad’s screen is like watching a movie in HD as opposed to an over-the-air SD broadcast, which is actually a bad analogy because video on the ATP’s widescreen format is actually superior in being larger (that darn 4:3 format that Apple insists upon) and also brighter (the ATP’s one screen advantage). Video doesn’t highlight the iPad’s superiority the way images and text manage to do. Perhaps it’s more like looking at an original painting in the Louvre instead of a cheap print of the same painting bought in a department store, or even more apt, like reading a nicely printed page instead of the pixelated screen of an LCD. With regard to text in particular, that whole Apple mantra of “you can’t see the pixels!” really makes an impact.

All of that said, I’ll wrap up this post by saying that the new iPad makes a visceral impact on a person from the very first glance, and that’s Apple’s brilliance in marketing. They manage to find something to focus on (with the iPad 2, it was “thinness”) that sucks you in, and they’ve succeeded in at least enticing this Apple hater (yes, that’s actually far too strong) into at least considering an Apple product. And that’s saying something.

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