With makers of tablet computers, including India's own Notion Ink (Adam tablet PC) sprucing up their offerings, this year promises a fight between Google's Android and Apple's iOS.

In the good old days, when a new BBS (Bulletin Board Service) started, the moderators would resort to what was called an “OS (operating system) war” to gain the attention of the users. Would DOS truly be better than UNIX, they would harmlessly post and supporters of both these OSes would back their favourite with the zeal that one would normally associate with extremists. And now, just as one thought that there would no longer be any such fight, things are hotting up between Google's Android and the iOS on the tablet front.

While the competition was originally for the mobile platform, the fight has now shifted to the tablet. Android's new avatar, called Android 3.0 or Honeycomb, was unveiled last month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This version is more than a general upgrade — it is aimed specifically at tablets. While earlier versions could support tablets to an extent, the support was rudimentary. But now, thanks to Honeycomb, Android can really take on Apple on the tablet front.

While there are some upcoming Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and planned models from Toshiba and LG, India's own Notion Ink is also planning to bring the Honeycomb to its Adam. In a recent blog post, Rohan Shravan, Founder and CEO of Notion Ink, said the company has started working on the Honeycomb. When contacted by Business Line on the time frame, he replied, “We are working on the update. When is something I can't promise, since it's a BIG promise. We are working on it, and there are multiple parties included like NVidia, Google, etc.” Feeling the heat, Apple has launched Beta 3 of its iOS 4.3 to take on Honeycomb. One question in the minds of industry observers is this — will history repeat itself? Once upon a time, Apple introduced the GUI and the PC industry with Microsoft Windows became more popular than Apple because many vendors supported it. Now, Apple has created the tablet industry, and these observers are wondering — will the combined might of the various Android players mean that the Android will become more popular than the iPad in the years to come? It is very hard to predict what consumers will buy, so the jury is still out on that one. But developers seem to be favouring both platforms right now.

The Appcelerator-IDC Q1 2011 Mobile Developer Report says that Android tablet interest jumped 12 points in three months with 74 per cent of respondents saying they are very interested in developing for these devices. But the iPad was still higher, with 87 per cent of developers showing interest in this platform. But the leap in the interest in the iPad was just three points, perhaps indicating that developers are setting their sights on the Android now.

But developers tend to ultimately follow the consumer, and it is they who will decide if the Android can displace the iPad from the throne.

‘App'setting the Apple cart

Before tablets, one could buy any music player to play music, but one bought the iPod Touch for one main reason — to use the various apps on Apple's App Store. In the tablet world, while one can surf the Web or watch movies with pretty much any tablet, one would still want to use an Apple iPad if one wanted access to apps.

Google realised this a while ago and in August 2008, launched Android Market which, as of December 2010, had around 2 lakh apps. In contrast to this, the App Store, which was launched in July 2008, has over 4 lakh apps as of January 2011.

> balaji.n@thehindu.co.in