Android tablets have never quite grabbed us. While occasionally smaller Android devices come close to competing with the iPhone—in terms of build quality, data entry, ease of use—rarely has an tablet approached the iPad in any metric.
Google’s new Nexus 7 is no different—a homely glass and plastic slate without any salient features to brag about. But there’s one notable exception: Jellybean 4.3-supported refined user profiles. So what does that mean?
Android 4.2 introduced the concept of user profiles in Android, meaning the OS allowed different users to sign into their account on a shared tablet, segregating data from the other users. That’s a big win for families sharing a single tablet. With 4.3, user profiles were refined to add restrictions: now, only certain apps are available and connected to a given Google account, meaning that each user who signs into that tablet sees a different selection of apps.
This feature is, at present, one of the only major differentiators between Apple and Android devices—at least one of the only features where Android wins. For families with kids, people who entertain guests, or in enterprise environments, being able to completely switch users makes tablet usage economical.
But more importantly, it showcases a different philosophy toward Internet accessibility. Apple prefers a deeply personalized paradigm, where you cherish your One Device—going so far as to pick its color, in the case of the iPod Touch—and it remains locked to you and your data. Android devices seem to be moving toward a user-agnostic, kiosk-like model where anyone can sign into an Android device and have it become theirs. (The Chromebook Pixel works this way as well.)
The device still identifies an "owner," and that person does get special privileges. By default, restricted users don't get access to the owner’s Gmail, calendar, Play Store, or in-app purchases, and owners get to decide whether the apps will have access to location data. This make it much easier and quicker to hand the tablet over to a child.
Version 4.3 also brings more controls for developers and allows them to put a fine level of detail on which controls can be restricted in their apps. The Android Dev.Bytes video introducing the new feature touches on the different ways developers can implement the restricted profiles setting in their apps. With only a few lines of code, developers can get the OS to recognize restricted profiles readiness and with not too much more code, apps can be ready to take advantage of all aspects.
Compared to Windows 8/RT and now Android 4.3, Apple and iOS are the odd man out when it comes to user profiles and being able to easily share a tablet, keeping personal data private. Though iOS's restriction settings and parental controls are appealing, any parent looking for a tablet to be easily handed off to their child may want to seriously consider the new Nexus 7 for the restricted user profiles feature in particular.