It seems barely believable that I’ve had the 10″ Galaxy Note in my hands for just four weeks. Like its smaller brother it just feels “right”, in a way the iPad failed to achieve in two years. It’s already delivering value, at a point at which the iPad was just frustrating me.
About a year ago I wrote a piece entitled “Ten Ways to Make Your iPad Work Effectively With Windows”. That was to some extent a tale of frustrations, apologies and work-arounds, and it’s time to contrast how the Android option delivers for business users in a heterogeneous environment.
USB Connectivity and the Shared Filesystem
Imagine you want to read a document from your PC on the iPad. First you connect the iPad via USB. Then you fire up either iTunes or DiskAid. You next either go through an “import” dialogue, or drag files from Explorer, but you have to target the space of the right application. Then on the iPad you have to open the application which received the file(s). Remember how to drive the apps file management features (they’re all different…) ? This may not be the final step. You may have to select your files and “open in” the editor /viewer app, or you may have to do an “import from iTunes” step in the editor. Finally, if you make changes, then you reverse the above, if you’re lucky. If you’re using an application like Polaris Office with no effective export features you’re stuffed! If you open in multiple applications you end up with several copies to tidy up.
Now let’s try the Android tablet. Connect it via USB. It appears as a drive on the PC. From the program where you are viewing the document you may be able to do a “save as” to the tablet. If not, you just copy/paste the file in Explorer to a convenient directory on the tablet. In the tablet’s file manager click the file to open it. When you have finished editing save the file and it’s visible to the PC as soon as you connect it.
You can open in one application or many, but you only have one copy of the file on the tablet unless you deliberately choose to do a “save as”. Result: predictable document management.
Media Formats and iTunes
Android devices are media format agnostic, which makes transferring media to and from other devices much easier. In fairness this is also much easier on the iPad than it was originally, although only if you use a program other than iTunes to manage your content.
Freeing yourself up from iTunes is a major benefit in its own right. If any company other than Apple supplied it the software would be labelled “spyware”. Being able to access and manage your tablet using native Windows functions is much cleaner.
If there’s a single “killer” application or suite which makes a compelling case for an Android (or Windows Mobile) device this is it. Open Word documents and add tracked changes. Open Excel spreadsheets and the formatting and formulas work. Show a presentation full screen and just click to advance. Sounds easy, but no iPad solution can deliver. SoftMaker do. With menus which follow Office 2003. Accept no substitutes.
There’s a reason why moving from daubing with the fingers to drawing fine lines with a pen represented a significant forward step for mankind. Unfortunately Steve Jobs didn’t get it. Those who have used Pocket PCs, Tablet PCs or Samsung “Note” tablets do. While much of what I describe here applies to all Android devices, Samsung have a significant USP with their stylus support, which speeds normal text input but also opens up the mobile device to a much wider range of uses.
The iPad could in theory be a great platform for design collaboration, but I never had any real success, mainly due to the lack of precision drawing tools. Someone with much smaller fingers and much greater artistic talent might do better, but my ability to finger paint detailed models on an A5 page is limited.
Samsung’s S-Note is a good start, for free-hand sketching, which it can optionally “tidy” as you go, or structured diagrams. However an even better solution is DroiDia, a surprisingly capable Visio clone for Android. The user interface is a bit arcane and will take a bit of acclimatisation, but the Visio-compatible results are very good. Here’s a simple three tier architecture:
If your work involves maths or science then S-Note provides you with another benefit – handwriting recognition of equations. This works amazingly well – here’s an example:
(Anyone who asks what this means will be subject to a very rude response :-))
Finally, the S-Pen makes the tablet a genuinely usable Remote Desktop client. Yes, the iPad has several apps which provide RDP or similar connectivity to a larger computer, but anyone who has tried to do productive work with Windows on a small screen driven by fingertip has typically given up in frustration. With the S-Pen the problem disappears, as selection resolution matches that of a mouse or Tablet PC stylus. (The same thing also helps enormously with web pages designed with a fixed format for larger screens.)
This alternative input system for Android devices dramatically accelerates “tapped” text input, and on Android devices it works for all applications, not just a stand-alone “notepad” which would be the iOS approach. Its predictive abilities verge on the psychic, and I often find myself writing whole sentences with only 2 or 3 taps per word (like this one!) It’s probably borderline whether I can input text faster with SwiftKey or a full-sized keyboard.
Android’s “widgets” provide genuine information right on the home screen of a phone or tablet – not just a badge saying “99 new things have happened in this app” . It saves me a lot of time not having to go into an “app” just to get regular information like current appointments, weather and news headlines. As the technology becomes more widely understood I expect business-related data to be presented in the same way.
In another iPad blog (Not from My Cold, Dead Hand… ) I wrote about whether the iPad could replace a PC, and concluded it would severely limit content creation capabilities. Beyond the limited input tools and editors supported by iOS, the lack of multitasking is a major issue.
A genuine multitasking operating system makes a lot of difference when you’re trying to compile content from different sources. For this post, I had to flip between WordPress, a browser, S-Note and PhotoShop Touch, but the ability to do so meant I could create the post entirely on the Note. iOS makes a reasonable job of faking multitasking a lot of the time, but the need to reload documents all the time becomes slow, tiring and a source of errors.
Set aside the limitations for content creation and consumption, and iOS bars itself from certain classes of business application, particularly those requiring continuous background processing. Simple “logging” apps, for example, run in the background under Android (or Windows Mobile) but can only run in the foreground on an iPad or iPhone.
I realise that this is a plea for BetaMax in a VHS (Apple) world, but even with limited exposure I am identifying some significant differences in the ability of my Galaxy Note to deliver business value compared with the iPad. I encourage readers to think about what’s important to them, and whether an iOS or an Android solution will meet the needs better.