Things are really getting interesting in tablet-land. Apple has consistently dominated this market since it created the entire product category three years ago. But that's finally changing. International Data Corporation reports that in the first quarter of 2013, tablets running Google's Android operating system surged past the iPad for the first time, accounting for 56 percent of total sales.
Why the big breakout? For one thing, Apple was caught flat-footed by the growing demand for phablets - touch-screen devices that are larger than a smartphone but smaller than a standard tablet. (The 7.9-inch iPad Mini was widely viewed as a response to Google's phablets.) Also, the drawbacks of Android - notably earlier problems with stability - seem to be dwindling. Many had felt that the iPad's ease of use was worth the $100 to $200 price premium over Android tablets with roughly equivalent features. But recent refinements to the Android operating system mitigated the clunkiness of the interface, and now several Android models (including Google's Nexus 10 and Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1) are almost as sleek and well designed as an iPad.
Reports indicate that consumers are increasingly satisfied with Android tablets. But which platform is best if you're a lawyer? The answer may come down to apps, not hardware.
If you plan on using a tablet just for standard productivity functions - word processing, email, spreadsheets, slide presentations, editing PDFs - then an Android model will probably meet all of your needs. If you're looking for specialized legal applications, however, Apple's iOS may be the way to go.
Shop around in Google Play, the Android equivalent of Apple's App Store, and you'll find iJuror, a few options for case management, and some mobile deposition apps. Still, there's no solid courtroom presentation program like TrialPad, no legal billing or practice management software such as RocketMatter or Clio. And the quality of apps on Google Play is wildly variable.
"You're more likely to find robust legal applications on the Apple platform," says Tobias Moyer, a Bay Area lawyer who does electronic discovery work with a focus on predictive coding technology. He knows something about the different markets - he created a legal reference app (dLaw) for Android devices a few years ago while he was still in law school, and he's just released another one (AllLaw) for Apple.
Moyer says the great thing about Google's app store is that the barrier to entry for developers is low. (Basically, you need to pay a $25 fee.) This encourages experimentation and creativity, but it comes with a downside: "There's a lot of crappy Android apps out there," he says. "The knock on Apple's app store is that they're so close-fisted, and the process to get an application approved is pretty daunting. But the apps tend to be of a higher quality."
Still, don't think that means everything in Apple's app store is great. Generally, though, for Android you'll have to work a bit harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Maybe this will change if sales of Android tablets continue to climb, tempting more software makers to port their wares to Google Play for the bigger customer base. But right now, iPads still have a real edge with apps.
Microsoft's new line of Surface tablets has had a little trouble getting out of the gate. Promising a fully functional PC in a tablet form factor, it was supposed to be capable of running all the standard Windows software that so many lawyers rely on. But the same Q1 sales figures that showed Android tablets blowing past iPad had Windows tablets stalling out with just 3 percent of market share.
What went wrong? When the Surface RT debuted last October, many reviewers declared it a slow and buggy mess. Critical consensus was more kind to the refined and souped-up Surface Pro released in February, but there were still complaints - about the meager four-hour battery life, the amount of heat it generated, and the high price tag ($900 for the 64GB model, $1,000 for 128GB).
Many new products take a couple of revisions to work out the kinks. And with the improvements between the first and second iteration, the third might be the charm for the Surface. Which suggests that all but the most dyed-in the-wool Windows users may want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
A Step Ahead
Leila Banijamali, an IP attorney in San Francisco, operates on the cutting edge. Really
. She works primarily with Silicon Valley startups. She jots down notes using a futuristic, Wi-Fi-enabled Livescribe Sky smartpen, which logs her scribbles while a built-in microphone simultaneously records time-coded audio. Banijamali is not just paperless, she's officeless - when she needs a desk, she searches with the Liquidspace app to find a nearby coworking facility with an available spot. Her firm, Bedrock, even wrangled access to a prototype of Google Glass, the tiny, head-mounted display that operates on voice commands. ("We want to be first firm in the world to use this technology in our practice," she says. "It'll be a game changer for note taking and documentation of events in real time.")
When she's not dabbling in this next wave of productivity tools, Banijamali remains partial to her MacBook Air and to her tablet, which she says is "great for research and taking quick notes." She uses an iPad, natch. ("I'm in San Francisco, which is so Apple-centric. I rarely see other tablets.")
And yet as much as she is committed to staying one step ahead of her peers, the iPad she uses is practically vintage: a first-generation iPad that she won as a door prize at an International Trademark Association conference. Banijamali is in no hurry to upgrade either; her tablet can run most of the billing, contract, and lead-tracking apps that her firm uses.
In fact, older iPads work so well that you may want to explore the secondhand market and save a bundle of money in the process. Apple sells refurbished units for as little as $300 or so, while third-party vendors sell them for even less (though of course those devices aren't eligible for Apple's warranty coverage.) Think of it as recycling!
Chris Baker is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.