Everyone knows about the iPad, that "magical" new product from Apple that's been taking over the world with its charm and simplicity. But what are these new things the electronics stores are pushing at you, that look like the iPad but aren't?
These "tablets" are made by manufacturers like Acer and Motorola, and are powered by Google's Android operating system. That means they work a bit differently, with a series of persistent on-screen buttons and menus instead of a single home button. But the biggest difference? Android tablets can't run any of the iPad's 65,000 apps.
Wait, so these "tablets" have no apps? Are you kidding me?
They can't run any iPad apps.
Websites work more or less the same, on either an Android tablet or an iPad. But apps have to be specially written to work on one or the other. This is because they use different programming languages, plus Android apps kinda have to be made to work on any Android tablet, from small 7-inch tablets to widescreens. IPad apps basically just need to work on the one iPad.
That sounds like a lot of work to do for Android.
It is, especially if you're used to writing for iPads. App developers would do it willingly if the rewards were worth it, but so far they aren't; people aren't making a whole lot of money from app sales for Android at all.
Some people use free apps with ads, instead. Android phones have more free apps than iPhones do. Ad-supported free apps only work to make money if a lot of people are clicking the ads, though, and so far not a whole lot of people own (or want) Android tablets.
If free and paid app developers can't make money, who does that leave?
First is Google itself. Google's made special tablet versions of some of its apps, like a 3d version of Google Maps and a YouTube app with a panoramic wall of videos. There's also the free Google Body app, which is an interactive 3d model of human anatomy.
Second are a few big-name companies, like CNN and CNBC. A few companies have been quick to write apps for Android tablets, which let people who own them stay connected to these companies' offerings.
And third are some game companies, that write games like Vendetta Online and Samurai II: Vengeance. These are best played on a tablet-sized screen.
Is that all?
There are a few other apps available for Android tablets. Just like a few people are buying Android tablets instead of iPads, some developers are choosing to write for them, too.
It's also possible to run Android phone apps on Android tablets. They don't always work well, though, and may have misproportioned buttons and things.
How do I find the best games and apps for my Android tablet?
The free NVIDIA Tegra Zone app helps Android tablet owners find games designed to work on their tablets. And the Android Market has a "Featured Tablet Apps" section, which showcases the best native tablet apps as well as phone apps that work especially well on tablets.
Finally, you can look up online reviews and roundups of Android tablet apps. You may find something new.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
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