Earlier this week, I had a quick chance to use the new Samsung Galaxy Tab — the first serious tablet rival to the iPad — and check out its analytic / business intelligence capabilities.
The device runs Android 2.2, which supports Adobe Flash, so the first thing I tried was a couple of dashboards suitable for executives on the run, built using BusinessObjects Dashboard (formerly Xcelsius). First, the same Formula 1 example that I previously tried out on my Google Nexus One phone.
I also would have liked to get the chance to try out the brand-new mobile dashboards functionality provided by Antivia, that makes it easy to provide a single Xcelsius dashboard that automatically adapts to a mobile interface – but Antivia CEO Mark Hudson has promised to post a video of the experience at some point.
Overall, the experience was generally very similar to the Nexus phone. The dashboards felt a little sluggish, especially when I was using the graphics-intensive transitions, but basic navigation worked fine.
There were a few differences compared to the Google Phone:
- Unlike with the Nexus, you couldn’t hold your finger down on the dashboard in the browser in order to maximize it to full screen size (and get rid of the top bar) – but you could pinch to zoom, and pan with your finger, which isn’t possible with my Nexus phone.
- The zooming and panning seemed a little tricky to use in the dashboard context (i.e. when you’re trying to avoid clicking on one of the buttons at the same time) – for example, I could zoom in on Donald’s Globe, but once I’d done so, I could no longer use a slide gesture to turn the globe – it was interpreted as a gesture to pan the whole dashboard instead. This would probably have been easier to use with a bit more practice, but it underlines that Flash isn’t yet really optimized for touch devices.
- Because of the larger screen size, it was much easier to click in the right place, making it feasible to use the same dashboard for the screen and for the mobile device.
Next, I tried out SAP BusinessObjects OnDemand. Since it uses a mixture of HTML and Flash, it worked very well – here’s the list of available reports once I logged on:
And here’s an example of a formatted report. Using a web-based reporting tool like Web Intelligence or Crystal Reports on a mobile device browser is a joy: the pinch and panning gestures work perfectly, making it easy to move around a big report and zoom in on the important details.
Overall, the size and form factor of the Galaxy Tab seemed like a good business compromise – much lighter and easier to stick in a pocket than the iPad, but with much more useable screen space than a mobile phone. It already works well for analytic interfaces that use HTML, and while the useability of the Flash-based dashboards isn’t perfect, it’s at least possible, unlike the iPad.
Personally, I chafe at the restrictions imposed by Apple on their devices (for example, it’s deliberately awkward to create and distribute prototypes of applications without signing their license agreements), and I hate every second I’m forced to use iTunes (I don’t have a Mac, and it’s a horrible, slow, bug-ridden experience using my PC).
So overall, I’m a strong candidate for Android-power devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I’m sure I would use it more for business than the iPad, which I tend to find too underpowered and annoying for real work (e.g. the infuriating keyboard that forces you to go to a second screen just to type an apostrophe), and yet too bulky to put in a pocket to use on the move.
However, Android 2.2 doesn’t really seem to get the most out of the device. I’m looking forward to the next version of Android (“Gingerbread”), due out very shortly, which will be more optimized for tablet devices. With the new OS, Android-powered tablets like the Galaxy Tab should take their rightful place as serious business competitors to the iPad.