Why a Smartphone OS Doesn’t Belong on a Tablet


In the past couple years we’ve seen a huge surge of tablet-style devices in the market. It started with Apple’s iPad, which was essentially an iPhone with a bigger screen and no phone. It ran the same iPhone apps, just on a larger screen.  A few other manufacturers went in the same direction with putting Android on large-screened tablet devices (such as the original Galaxy Tab). Again, initially, this was no different than an Android smartphone with a larger screen. Then Google realized that a smartphone OS does not belong on a tablet so they created the tablet-specific Honeycomb version of Android which was totally re-designed to offer a more PC-like user experience with a taskbar at the bottom and menu buttons for various functions. In other words, Android’s Tablet UI does away with the hardware key UI requirements that are normally found on smartphones for a more PC style user interface. Even its task manager is reminiscent of the Windows 7 aero-peek task bar. Of course, things changed again with Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich which brought similar Android Tablet features back to the smartphone. Still Android’s tablet operating system seems to be evolving more and more towards a desktop-style OS.  You can even plug a keyboard and mouse into Android tablets these days in order to get a more PC-like experience.

Are you sure this isn’t a normal PC?

For the large-screened smartphone style tablets there tends to be a race towards full personal computer functionality. We’ve seen it in Google’s Honeycomb with a more Windows-like interface. Even before Apple’s original iPad was announced most of the rumors and wishes from Apple fans surrounded around a tablet based on Mac OS X; something like the Modbook except officially supported and designed by Apple. Steve Jobs doesn’t believe in the stylus or pen though, so that would never work, and instead Apple developed a large-screened iPod music player that originally ran iPhone apps in a pixel-doubled or shrunken mode that turned out to be a horrible experience. Of course the iPad has evolved a lot since then to take more advantage of the larger screen. Many developers are creating apps that specifically make use of the larger screen in order to avoid the “large-smartphone-feel” and there is a large market for iPad accessories that add a folding keyboard in order to make it much more PC-like.  You’ve got a lot more capabilities these days and Apple is actually evolving their desktop operating system to be much more similar to their successful iOS iPad operating system.

A number of writers and tech commenters were also seen wishing that Windows Phone 7 would be used in Microsoft’s next generation tablet operating system since its light weight and innovative Metro UI seemed like a perfect fit. Of course, Microsoft refused to bring such a limited smartphone OS to their tablets since they knew that the market was heading towards a more feature-rich, larged-screen personal computing experience on tablets and as you know they’ve announced a controversial new Windows 8 operating system that merges the best of the Metro touch UI with the extremely powerful Windows operating system.

Quite often when using one of these large-screen smartphone OS tablets, people will run into many things that they wish they could do without having to get up and go over to a desktop computer or boot up a laptop PC.

  • I wish there was a print command
  • I wish I could use handwriting recognition to take notes instead of pecking at this qwerty keyboard
  • I wish I could run the full version of Office or Adobe Creative Suite or Lightroom or AutoCad or Maya
  • I wish I could plug in a keyboard and mouse
  • I wish I could connect to a corporate domain controller and access network resources.
  • I wish I could access project management data or accounting applications
  • Et cetera

Just about every time Adobe asks their fans what kind of software they would like to see on a tablet, many people say things like full Photoshop, Creative Suite, or Lightroom. Adobe, of course, was referring to tablets like the iPad and has subsequently developed silly companion apps that sometimes interact with destkop versions of their programs, but guess what… Windows Tablet PCs are fully capable of running real professional software applications like the ones everyone is looking for.

And so the tablet OS designers have been trying to add many of those full-desktop features to their operating systems. The simple smartphone operating systems that Apple and Google originally brought to their tablets were never intended to support such a wide range of functions that people might want to do on a large-screened device. They were designed for single full-screen apps where you can only see one at a time since that’s all you could really do on a small-screened smartphone.

Microsoft, realizes that everyone is trying to scale up their tablet device capabilities to support everything that their Windows operating system already does. So, Microsoft has been gradually adding better tablet support to Windows all along.

Office 2010 on a Tablet

Office 2013 Preview on a Tablet

Microsoft has put a lot of effort into making their Office suite more Tablet friendly and their OneNote application can’t be beat when it comes to Tablet note taking. Even Windows 7 worked pretty well as a Tablet operating system:

Tips for making Windows 7 more finger friendly on smaller screen tablets.

Of course, Windows 8 is much much improved for Tablets.

So while everyone else is trying to make their tablets more PC-like, Microsoft is making their PC operating system more tablet-like. This gives you the added advantage of already being able to support all of the things you were wishing you could do from a portable touch-screen tablet. All of the things that couldn’t be done on a large-screened smartphone OS tablet are just a flick away when you’re using a Windows 8 tablet (provided you have one with an Intel processor that still supports x86/x64 programs that is). In fact, an x86/x64 based Windows 8 tablet could likely replace your laptop computer since it would be able to handle all of the portable computing needs that you were wishing you could do on other tablets.

On the other hand, iPads and low-cost Android tablets certainly have their place. When friends tell me they’re going to get an iPad or Android tablet I always like to ask why they would want one if they already have a smartphone. Usually the answer is so that they can have a larger screen at home and also to have something for Facebook/Email/Web when their smartphone’s battery is recharging.  Still, it’s clear that all of these tablet operating systems are growing to be much different and more-powerful than their smartphone relatives.

Are the current Android and iOS tablets good enough for you or are you still looking for more functionality?

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!