Which tablet: iPad or Android? How to choose

iPad mini

Paul Ockenden offers advice for those deliberating between an iPad and an Android tablet

I constantly receive emails asking: "should I buy an iPad or an Android tablet?".

I’m sure many people are wondering exactly the same thing. Much like when choosing a smartphone, there’s no single "best" device on the market; different people will have varying needs when it comes to selecting a tablet. Let’s look at a few reasons why you might choose one over the other.

First – and let’s get this out of the way right from the start – many people take a strong anti-Apple stance. Sometimes it’s for justifiable reasons (they don’t like the closed architecture and the "one true way" Apple culture), at other times it’s for more ephemeral reasons. Many folk simply see Apple owners as stupid people who are lured by slick marketing into paying too much for their tech. Either way, if you’re in the anti-Apple camp, don’t buy an iPad. Simple!

Similarly, there are Apple fans who always want to own the latest Cupertino gadget, and indeed will queue to get it on the first day. For them it would be madness to buy anything other than an iPad, although this advice is superfluous since they’ll already have one. In fact, they’ll own several, since we’re now on the fourth generation of the original device and they’ll probably have upgraded each time, as well as having just bought themselves an iPad mini.

If you or the company that you work for is heavily tied into the Google infrastructure and its cloud-based applications, such as Gmail and Google Drive, then you’re probably better off with an Android tablet – which isn’t to say you can’t use an iPad; it’s just that the Google ecosystem integration is deeper on a device running Google’s operating system, as you might expect. As a general rule, the iPad will try to force you into using Apple’s cloud services, while an Android tablet will steer you towards those of Google.

Size used to be a differentiator – the iPad came in only one size, with a screen roughly the size of a sheet of A5 paper and a bezel around the edge making the whole unit around A5.5-ish (that is, halfway between A5 and A4). But now we also have new iPad mini with its 7.9in display and thinner bezel. Although Android still has the edge when it comes to a choice of devices and form factors, with everything from whopping 12in monsters down to tiddly 5in minnows, the iPad now has two bases covered rather than only one.

The same can’t be said for pricing, where the iPad is very much the rich man’s option. Even the new iPad mini, which was widely predicted to be Apple’s move into lower-priced tablets, turned out to be nothing of the sort: it’s still priced as a "premium" product. Its main competitors are priced within the £100-£200 bracket, so the iPad mini’s £269-£529 could turn out to be its most distinctive feature.

Creating apps

If you’re a developer then you’re faced with a rather paradoxical choice: if you go with Android it’s far easier to create apps, with more tools available, and you can host your development environment on just about any platform going, but when you’ve finished it’s often hard to make money on Android app sales. Go down the iPad route and you’ll need a Mac of some description (you can, in principle, use a "hackintosh", but it probably isn’t something you’d want to rely on for your living).

Once you’ve created your app, though, you’re far more likely to see revenue from it, since iPad users are significantly more likely to hit the Buy button than their Android-owning brethren (and significantly less likely to pirate your work).

It can be more difficult to get an app listed in Apple’s App Store, however, with many more rules and regulations to meet, and the company prone to unexpectedly moving the goalposts. Apple would have you believe that its "guidelines" are there to prevent a certain type of app – tip calculators, for example – such as those you find in Android stores, but the rules are actually more often to protect Apple itself.

If you make any in-app money then Apple wants a cut. If your app is a storefront for other apps then it will be rejected, even if it directs users to the App Store to complete their purchase. There’s a raft of such issues that you need to think about at the planning stage of your app, rather than trying to fudge the rules later to make the app fit.