Apple rules, Android drools for responsive tablet touchscreens

The results are in and gamers and musicians take heed: if you want a responsive tablet for data intensive gaming or music apps like Garage Band, then your best bet is the iPad. For everyone else, there’s Android, but tablets running Google's open-source operating system aren't as finger-friendly as Microsoft's own Surface RT.

That’s the word from mobile ad platform company Agawi, which seems to be finding a second career as a benchmarking company. (Note: See update at bottom.)

In September, Agawi unveiled its first benchmarking report that measured how long it took a smartphone to update its display after a touch interaction; Tuesday, the company released a detailed report ranking tablet touchscreen responsiveness, testing the iPad and iPad Mini, Nvidia's Shield, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, and Microsoft’s Surface RT.

iPad is the touch champ

Just like its smartphone tests, Apple’s iOS took top honors in the tablet TouchMarks showdown. The iPad Mini measured the fastest average touch response time at 75 milliseconds, followed closely by the fourth-generation iPad at 81 milliseconds.

Agawi's TouchMarks results. (Click to enlarge.)

To add a little spice to its tablet match-up, Agawi added the Nvidia Shield to the mix. Even though the handheld gaming machine isn’t a tablet, the device does have touch capabilities and comes packed with tablet-like specs, including a quad-core Tegra 4 processor, 2GB RAM, and 16GB onboard storage.

In its tests, Agawi gave high marks to the Shield, ranking it as the most responsive Android-based device with a 92-millisecond response time. The next fastest Android tablet was the latest version of the Kindle Fire HD at 114 milliseconds, followed by the Nexus 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 (8 inch) at a comparatively pitiful 135 and 168 milliseconds, respectively.

Even though it’s a latecomer to the touch tablet craze, Microsoft’s years of developing touch technology helped the Surface RT earn a respectable 95 millisecond response time. That’s not as quick as Apple’s iPad, but was more than enough to destroy the Android-based competition, with the exception of Nvidia’s Shield.

Agawi isn’t quite sure what gives Apple its superior touch performance, but the company speculates that more responsive devices simply process touches as early as possible in the software stack. Touchscreen optimization may also play a role, and the company says it also has some evidence suggesting that a device’s GPU or GPU drivers may add “significant latency” to touch response times.

Whatever the reasons, Agawi advises that anyone with lightweight tablet needs such as reading, watching videos, or browsing the Web will probably be happy virtually any mainstream tablet. Go with what you like, in other words. But if you tend towards data-intensive applications such as gaming or music creation, then you should seriously consider an iPad.

Test everything!

Agawi's setup for Touchmarks testing.

The tests are based on TouchMarks, a benchmarking hardware and software suite designed by Agawi to measure touch response times. During a TouchMarks test, each device is placed in airplane mode, all background apps are closed, and the device screens are put at full brightness, as the test relies on a light sensor to help gauge responsiveness. Each device then gets tested a minimum of 50 times to calculate an average response time.

Agawi has already laid out some future plans for its TouchMarks suite to dig deeper into the world of touch, including a retrospective look at response times from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 5s. That will be followed by a look at responsiveness in games and game engines, and finally a study of response times for streaming apps and games.

If you want to measure touch responsiveness in the comfort of your own home, Agawi has open-sourced the TouchMarks app code, and plans to release full hardware details at some point in the future.

Update 10-9-13 at 3 P.M. E.T.: Agawi sent us the following note after this article published: Agawi is not making a second career as a benchmarking co. We simply do this benchmarking to achieve our main mission: streaming apps form the cloud to mobile devices and making that very very low latency and responsive as possible. So we just share our work as a side benefit.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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