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Best summary of the four (as of September 2011) major groups of tablets I have seen including developer notes:

"The tablet universe breaks down into a few major groups iPads, Android, Blackberry, and WebOS

All of these have some sort of emulator in the SDK that will let you develop things without having the hardware, but some are definitely easier to use than others.

They all have their advantages and disadvantages. For the Apple stuff you don't absolutely have to use their IDE, but for certain processes like packaging, it will be hard to do otherwise. The hardware is, as I'm sure you've noticed, not cheap.

For sheer knocking out of stuff out in a relatively short period of time, I think HP's (formerly Palm's) WebOS takes the cake. The underlying OS is Linux, but almost all of the apps (excluding those with critically time-sensitive code, which may not be as many as you'd expect) are written in Javascript. They even have a free IDE that runs completely inside a web browser. The tablet is due out next month but the phones have been out for 2 years now, and they're about as easy as it gets for developers. They're also quite friendly to hackers/developers in that HP just donated a server to the webos-internals group who have done most of the aftermarket kernel hacking for the WebOS phones to date. If you want to program closer to the metal there's also a "PDK" which lets you develop native-code plugins to support more real-time-ish things like games, DSP, etc.

RIM is playing catchup with the Blackberry tablet, and my take is that it's sort of an odd-man out right now. Developing for the Blackberry was annoying in my experience but they did security "right" to a degree that no other phone manufacturer has before or since. It's not clear how that will scale to tablets because their OS platform is getting long in the tooth. If they really do build the new one on Android, they're going to have to do a lot of work to harden it before it will be comparable to their handsets. (The phone API was ugly. There were third party apps but I wouldn't call it a joy to use.)

Android gives you a huge variety of hardware choices. If you don't mind a little tweaking one of the current favorites of budget-conscious hackers is the Barnes & Noble Nook Color. They're occasionally on sale quite cheap and with a little work there are Android distributions out there for it that will also preserve the native e-reader market functionality. It's not a superpowered CPU but it does the job as well or better than some of the general-purpose Android tablets out there.

There are also a pile on the market from Archos. Some have more horsepower than others.

I've played a number of these. If you want something with a built-in WWAN (cellular modem) the Samsung Galaxy Tab is serviceable but again not a flamethrower of a CPU and available from Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. It's not a bad all-around tablet even out of the box and the 7" form factor is nice in that it fits into a pocket. I also discovered one just this weekend at Best Buy from Intuos (Huawei) which has both WiFi and a SIM card slot without having to make any mobile provider signup obligation.

I am currently doing some Android stuff for a client, and I'm not terribly impressed with the maturity of the codebase. It does a lot of things well, but Google admits that the previous versions which have been pressed into use (quite serviceably) for tablets were really written for phones. The new version of the SDK/OS (Gingerbread) optimized for tablets has only been released to OEMs so far and there's a bit of a palace uprising among the developers who have been used to receiving code drops early and often. Right now, Motorola is one of the only shops that has it, but that's expected to change shortly. Google said they had some more fixes to make before they feel comfortable releasing the rewrite.

In terms of Android tablets, the Velocity Cruz has a bad rap for being quite underpowered. Some of the older Archos tablets (before the 5's in particular) are also underpowered. There's a huge influx of cheap Chinese ones as well, and many of them are really weak CPU-wise, though I'm sure there are some bargains if one reads the reviews.

I hope that helps a little. --Bob S."

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Page last modified on September 19, 2011, at 05:39 PM EST