Five open source alternatives to the iPad

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Interest in iPad app development is waning, and the device just got here. Maybe that means it's time to explore more open options. Here are five.

Neofonie WePad
A bit bigger than the iPad with an 11.6", 1366x768 display, the WePad runs the Android OS. You can get apps from the Android Market or the WePad App Store. It also has a 1.3 megapixel webcam, which the iPad infamously did not include. What about the other iPad holes most often complained about? Flash? Yes. Multitasking? Yes. And the USB ports, modem, and 6-hour battery life won't hear many complaints either.

Touch Book
Touch Book is sort of a netbook, sort of a tablet. It's made by a company called Always Innovating, and it has a feature that really appeals to me--a detachable keyboard dock. Their website shows its many with-or-without-dock configurations with titles like "Yoga: Downward dog," "Separation under way," and my favorite, "Fridge magnet." The hardware and software are fully open source--ready for you to do with what you like. It comes with a custom operating system, but you can install any mobile OS you like. Take a look at it at Gizmodo.

A 2-pound tablet for 300-400€ with a Linux OS designed specifically for a touchscreen with usability in mind. That's the completely open source iFreeTablet developed at the University of Cordoba in Spain. And you get the Flash support and multitasking you can only dream of with that shiny iPad. It's biggest shortcoming is the mere 2.5 hour battery life.

Tablets from Taiwan
According to PCWorld, Taiwanese gadget makers are ready to show off at least 10 iPad competitors. Here are two that were also shown at CES:

  • MSI has a 10" Android tablet. They're still a little short on details, other than the fact that they use the new Tegra 2 chips.
  • The Asustek Eee Pad also has a 10" touchscreen and the Tegra 2 chips. It's expected to come with the Chrome OS.

Google tablet
This one's cheating a bit--Google has no official plans to release a tablet. But there has been consideration of what the Chrome OS would look like on a tablet. And that gets the speculation started. ReadWriteWeb has explored the idea more in-depth.


Features comparison

  WePad Touch Book iFreeTablet iPad
Weight 1.75 pounds
<2 pounds 2.27 pounds 1.5 pounds
Display 11.6", 1366x768 8.9", 1024x600 10.2" 9.7", 1024x768
CPU Intem Atom N450, 1.6 Ghz
OMAP2530, 600 MHz Atom N270, 1.6 GHz Apple A4, 1 GHz
Battery 6 hours 3-5 hours tablet, 10-15 hours with keyboard, replaceable by user 2.5 hours (planning to improve) 10 hours
Keyboard no
yes no no
Camera 1.3 MP no 1.3 MP no
USB 2 3 external, 4 internal 3 none
Storage 16 GB, extendable to 32 GB
8 GB removable SD card 160 GB 16, 32, or 64 GB
512 MB + 256 NAND ? 256 MB
OS Android
Linux, Android, soon Chrome, other options
SIeSTA (based on Debian) iPhone OS
Wi-fi 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g 802.11 a/b/g/n
Price not yet for sale
$299 tablet, $399 with keyboard not yet for sale--estimated 300-400 Euro (~$400-$550) $499-$829

Ready to say no to the definitely closed iPad? Which of these alternatives sounds best to you?


> Read the followup to this post.

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.


Let's just say that I think, out of all the tablets you mentioned, the TouchBook is by far the more interesting one. You might say "innovative", though I'm not convinced that either the iPad or TouchBook are particularly innovative.

if it is less than a netbook, it should cost less than one. until then, i am not interested.

It seems like most of the hype around the iPad is that Apple missed the NetBook boat.

But then again, Microsoft pretty much killed the goose that laid the golden eggs by forcing the OEMs to install Windows on all of the NetBooks. Windows 7 Starter is a stopper.

It's ironic that many flat panel displays and HDTVs also have Linux controlled microcontrollers embedded.

I guess if you don't see the Penguin or the Gnu, or the GNOME footprints somewhere, it isn't running Linux?

Maybe Google will be more aggressive about pushing the branding, and keeping Linux on the NetBooks and touch-pads.

We seem to forget that there are several Linux tablets already available from Sony, Amazon, and other consumer electronics companies - often for under $200 each.

The tablet design isn't all that new it, just like a lot of technology, just needed to be marketed and bundled up better than "neat hardware- slap Windows on top and viola!.. a laptop that is not a laptop.. and is kinda clunky.. and the handwriting is spotty... but it's different!!"

I like the Touch Book's removable keyboard.


Looking at the chart now, the WePad looks pretty interesting too.

One of the best tablet concepts I have seen is the Adam. It stands out from the other with it PixelQi dual LCD panel. Check it out and I think you should include it here. Bye!

The other products are better but their battery life is bad. That is the only good thing in the iPad. If the other products could just improve the battery.

<a href="">iLet Mini Hal</a>

What makes the iPad great is not the features one by one, it's the integration between software and hardware and the fact that is has an excellent user interface.

On the other hand, open-source programmers have proven repeatedly that they cannot go beyond Windows 95 GUI. I don't see how it will change just by changing the form factor.

The cool thing about the iPad is that they actually exist, they are in stock, and you can buy them right now.

I wouldn't really consider these examples 'alternatives' to the iPad.

Well, I think someone is reading more deeply into something than they ought. From the linked article at eweek:

"Appcelerator, maker of the open-source Titanium cross-platform mobile, desktop and Web development platform, has released a new survey of its developer base that indicates that, while still hot, developer interest in Apple's iPad is slightly on the wane from earlier this year, while interest in the Google Android platform continues to grow."

Gee, most apps on the iPad are done in Apple's Xcode, and I question if they are intended to be "cross-platform" (if you use Xcode, they won't be). All this shows is that those developers who are attempting to use Appcelerator to make x-platform apps are not developing apps. I've got to assume that is a much smaller cross-section than those who develop using xcode.

Here's one from the other side (also from eweek 2 days after the above) -

"In these pie charts, Flurry notes that iPad made up 22 percent of new projects starts within Flurry over the last two months. Interestingly, the charts show that Google Android's share of new project starts decreased from 18 percent in 2009 to 10 percent over the last 60 days."

Ok - I don't know how much stock to put in either, or both. However, I question both of them. The only fact is - how many apps are in an "app store"?

And until one of these actually ships, and we KNOW what they actually do, and how the battery ACTUALLY lasts, etc. - is this a case of "Open Source FUD"? Don't misunderstand, I'm a firm Linux user, and like to see competition occur - but let's report accurately - and with some skepticism about reports.

I'm suprised no one brought up Notion Ink's Adam which is soon to be released.

None of this are a true alternative to iPad, some are nice concepts, specially when talking in "opensource" terms, but in the global scenario, they aren't consistent, they don't have the same user experience, and don't have a app store, full of ready to go applications. And price is high for the offered features.

They can fill some market niches, for the gadget people, who like to get inside and hacking it, but they aren't suited for the masses.

Maybe google change this with android..but for now it's far from apple's business.

Just ran across an article about the ICD's Tegra 2-powered Gemini which runs Android. The article includes a comparison with the Gemini, the iPad and the JooJoo in engadget.

ICD's Tegra 2-powered Gemini is the most feature-complete tablet we've seen yet

Isn't the JooJoo that has bad "JuJu" because of questionable business dealings?

Dell has an open source based Andriod tablet coming out soon too.

That chart really illustrates why nobody else can pull off the tablet idea. They are so far behind the iPad in the things that matter for a device like this, particularly battery life. I'm a heavy FOSS user, but won't give up productivity just to say I'm using it. The best tool for the job wins, and at this time, the iPad is light years ahead of the others in the things that actually matter for this device. Everyone else is trying to fit the same old requirements and paradigms into a completely new device and way of using a computer.

I've been following the development of the Touch Book for a couple years now, well before there was a credible ipad rumour, much less a shipping product. They have some really solid concepts there, but the reviews from people who actually order the hardware continues to be sour -- poor quality in almost every aspect of the hardware along with reports of repeated delays for software updates that never materialize have scared me away a couple times (first to an EEEpc 501, then to an HP mini, both running linux).

I had hoped upon seeing this article that perhaps their quality woes were a thing of the past, but I am troubled by the choice of a year-old story as the information link on the device -- and when I look for current reviews, I'm still mostly finding stories of hardware and some software quality complaints -- in fact, the year-old link given has a sidebar entry for an 8-month-old story by the same people who call it `not totally baked' and mention the quality issues.

I can understand the desire to push a timely story, but the headline talks about `options' and `alternatives' without mentioning until basically the very last line of the piece that only one of the 3/4 alternatives is actually available, and that one is plagued with reports of poor quality.

This article does a great job dissecting the individual components of "real" and "imaginary" devices, but fails to identify which product is most use-able, stable and flexible. Quality is far more important in the long run then bells and whistles that might or might not work or are concepts locked in someone's head.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to actually see, interact with and "use" each device (at least the ones that exist) rather than breaking down the specifications.

My judgment will be reserved until I interact with the devices.

Once tablets / touch tablets like these are officially released and engineered for the ChromeOS I'll buy one...

While it seems Android is a popular choice for these tablets so far, I am particularly interested in the upcoming availability of <a href="">Meego</a> - a real Linux operating system that carries on the excellent work started by Moblin and Maemo.

While not many people know about Meego yet, I suspect that within a year it will be a big player in this field.

Well, I'm sending this e-mail from my iPad and I don't need to guess at its features. While there are certainly features I would like to add, as a user rather than an experimenter I appreciate the time and effort that have been spent to get the boring things right.

I am forced by my software customers to develop for open source platforms using the open source libraries and tools. While I appreciate the donated effort that is expended, the developer productivity I get from Microsoft and Apple is simply not available in open source, nor is the backward compatibility.

In my experience, it's not what the product has that makes it great it's what it leaves out. Apple avoids feature bloat and keeps its products focused on a cohesive set of objectives. Most users will take that over a laundry list of marginally useful features that are inconsistently tossed into the bag and frequently buggy.

I think a quick glance at the battery life and weight of these so-called alternatives will tell you a lot about why Apple shipped the iPad as it is.

A Happy iPad User.

Its called ADAM..

Wow, one report about an cross-platform "SDK" users' lack of interest in iPad development. That's practically all you need to judge the success of an Apple device ;)

Great work, Ruth.

This must explain the lack of stock at US stores, the delayed international launch & the 52 week high stock price for AAPL.

Apple should be scrambling to get this sub-par product up to snuff. Maybe they should focus on upgrades like an embedded camera or 3G. Hopefully they're not slacking off waiting for the competition to catch them like a bad MP3 player manufacturer or poseur cell phone maker.

Seriously, my interest in journalism is waning.

I love Steve Jobs, but iPad is so pricey for what it is. There is Debian, CentOS, SuSE and other Enterprise flavors of Linux. There is also Ubuntu and Fedora for new comers .. If this is the case in OSS (Diversity & Competition) which makes it the ultimate truth that scares Apple and Microsoft.. Why not it be the case for Hardware?

I'd love to choose both the HW and SW of my:
1) laptop > reality
2) pad > gonna be reality
3) mobile phone > gonna be reality
4) digital camera > may be later

competition is OK, monopoly is NOT!

When the only thing they can say is ``the rumours that we will actually have a product this year are not true'', does it really count as an alternative?

I was very disappointed when Neofonie introduced the WePad and restricted its use to landscape mode only.
I started an open hardware/software project to present 3-D content (movies/stills/games/web) on any tablet running in portrait mode and WeTab was announced almost before iPad. Find details here :

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