Tablet Software Guide

Learn about the different types of tablet operating systems

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Once of the biggest factors to consider when buying a tablet is the operating system and the software it supports. Learn about the differences between Android, Apple's iOS, and Windows tablets.

Information in this article applies broadly to a wide range of devices. Check the specifications of individual products before making a purchase.

Tablet Operating Systems

An operating system is the underlying software that allows users to interact with their devices. A tablet's operating system, or OS, determines the layout of the touchscreen interface and the types of apps it can run. There are three major operating systems available for tablets.

Apple iOS

The iPad and the iPhone both run on iOS. Apple products are known for their high quality and user-friendliness. As the oldest operating system for tablets, iOS supports millions of apps. The downside is that you can only use Apple-approved applications unless you jailbreak your iPad.

Google Android

Google's Android OS is probably the most flexible in terms of the types of software it can run. The downside to this openness is that it can lead to security issues and interfaces that are not as standardized as other operating systems. Many manufacturers include their own modified interfaces, so tablets running the same version of Android may look and feel very different.

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft's first attempt to bring its Windows operating system to tablets with Windows RT was a commercial flop. With Windows 10, the company started focusing on creating an operating system that works on both PCs and tablets. Many Windows laptops now feature touchscreens and can be used in tablet mode.

Apps Stores: Google vs. Apple vs. Microsoft

App stores are the primary means for downloading and installing apps. The types of apps you can use on a device depends primarily on the operating system. While you'll often find different versions of the same app for each operating system, there are many apps that are exclusive to iOS, Android, or Windows.

Android users have access to the Google Play Store by default. Some manufacturers, like Samsung, also run their own app stores, so users have access to additional programs. Amazon Fire tablets run on a modified version of Android that is restricted to software in Amazon's app store; however, it is possible to install Google Play on a Fire tablet by sideloading it.

Tablets running Windows 8 can only use apps from the Windows Store, but Windows 10 tablets can run any program that you can use on a Windows 10 PC. Apple's iOS is the most restrictive as you can only use apps in the Apple store. That said, Apple often gets new applications before Google and Windows since iOS has been around for longer.

Tablet Parental Controls

Parental controls are necessary for families that share a tablet. Most tablets allow you to set up multiple profiles, so when someone uses the device, they can only access certain applications and media. You can also lock individual apps with a password and set restrictions on in-app purchases.

For example, the Family Sharing feature on iOS allows applications, data, and media files purchased through the Apple store to be shared between family members. It can be set up so that children can request purchases, which must then be approved or denied by an adult.

There are also tablets just for kids that only run a limited number of age-appropriate apps.