When it comes to mobile computing, tablets hit the sweet spot between smartphones and laptops. They’re small enough to be agile and portable, but have the power and screen real estate for more serious computing tasks. But as with any type of technology in this day and age, there are several brands to choose from.

There are numerous tablet types out there, but the two most popular are arguably the only realistic options for any professional. In one corner you have Apple and the iPad. In the other corner, there’s a whole host of  devices based on Google’s Android software. Each has a devout fan base, and both companies have made waves this spring with widely anticipated product launches.

Which platform has the most to offer your business? Take a look at the following comparison to figure out which brand is the best fit for you and your business.

Updated Operating Systems

Android’s latest OS development, called “Ice Cream Sandwich,” has added several new features and interface changes aimed at easier navigation. In general, Android products give you much more control over how your data is presented and how it appears. You can decide on the layout of your Android apps and widgets, even spreading them out over multiple home screens if you find that’s the best way to keep yourself organized. The OS is also a great asset to people working closely with Google products. With one login you can access the full suite of tools instantly.

Apple has also rolled out its latest OS version, iOS 5, for its new tablet. This system for the iPad 3 has a few upgrades that will help make the tablet a better experience than the first two iterations. A messaging platform, Twitter integration, and a new notification system are among the new features. It’s clear that both companies are still working hard to give you a great experience with their software.

Availability and Variety in Apps

Apple has a major head start in this category since it has had a tablet on the market since early 2010. Plus, many app developers can piggyback off their iPhone programs to easily adapt to the iPad. Furthermore, Apple’s closed platform is more attractive to application developers concerned about protecting their intellectual property and sales.

For this reason, many of the apps which cost money on the iPad are free on the Android — but loaded with ads.

There are 200,000 apps currently available for the iPad on the App Store, including many options relevant to business and productivity. And since all the apps sold in the App Store are vetted first by Apple, there will rarely be issues of quality. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding an app to suit your needs with an Apple tablet.

Android is still playing catch-up in the app field, although it recently undertook a major overhaul of its app store and transitioned from the Android Market to Google Play as its commercial hub. The new store is much easier to use, and the tighter integration with Google will likely boost Android’s position. There are fewer developers making top-notch apps for Android at this point, but that could change if the company makes a serious grab for market share. There’s no quality control process for apps to be sold on Google Play, so be sure to take a close look at the developer before you buy anything.

Hardware Options and Upgrades

One major benefit to going the Android route is the wide variety of choices for the actual device you use. An iPad will always be an Apple device, but Android customers can turn to Samsung, Motorola, HP, and more for their hardware. The range of product options means a range of prices, so you’re more likely to find a device to fit a tight budget with Android. You can also pick and choose the features that are most important to you in a tablet, like a top-notch camera or a keyboard attachment.

However, if you aren’t worried about customization options, Apple’s tablet has strong technical specs. The 2,048 x 1,536-pixel screen resolution of the new iPad is one of the biggest and most noticeable improvements, while a faster processor and 4G LTE connectivity mean you’ll be able to work quickly on the device. Some of the other bells and whistles have been upgraded, including vastly improved photo and video capabilities.

Which One Should You Buy?

As with so many questions of brand choice, there is no single correct answer. Consider the pros and cons offered by Apple and Android. Think about which one is the best fit for your type of work and the technology you already use. Are you working in an office overrun with Macs? Are you already using several Google products? How important are screen and image quality? Will the tablet stay indoors on desks or will it be roughing it on the go? And don’t forget the bottom line: how much can you spend?

In general, the split between Apple and Android can been summed up as customization versus consistency. Android products have seemingly endless options, both in the physical device you choose and in how you set it up for your day-to-day use. Apple has made its name on attractive and intuitive products that have fewer options but higher quality.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. If you really can’t tell which seems like the best complement to your business based on the specs, drop by a couple of stores and take the both brands for a test run. Once you’ve compared the actual tablets side by side, you’ll likely have a better idea which choice will be best for you.

Which tablet brand do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.

[Image credits: William Hook, Nerds on Call, Andy Clarke, Razor512, Matt Baume]