in Design, user-experience

A Consideration On Tablet Usability

During the recent Academy Awards Oscar Night Apple broadcasted a commercial on the upcoming iPad.

The first thing that you will notice in the video is that the device and the User interface looks great. You will see some nice activity performed by those guys and you may definitely fall in love with the device itself, just like I did.

I would now suggest to you to look at video again and focus not on the device but on the surroundings. Just look at how people is using the device, their posture, their hands, furnitures, etc. etc.

Here is the video:

When I saw the video I noticed that some of my concerns about tablets usability are definitely true.

The commercial lasts 30 seconds and show a few people performing different actions on the iPad.

Ok, now, I suggest to you to go back to the video and look how these guys are holding the device. I did a very basic and fast count and I can see the device being hold in one hand 5 times and sitting on their laps 15 times.

It seems that the best accessory for your next tablet are you laps. The good news is that nobody is going to charge for that accessory. The bad news is that you will have to buy that desk where your feet will rest on.

I think there are definitely some usability considerations to do here.

Let's have a look at the iPad virtual keyboard. (I am using the iPad as an example since it is the only product of which we already know something or, at least, that I can talk of based on public informations).

As you can the keyboard will take the whole screen width and if you want to efficient you will have to user both hands to write on it. That basically means that you will need to keep the iPad on your laps or on another surface. Interesting to notice that both iPad accessories shown in the picture are inclined toward the user to make reading easier. And that's not casual.

In the past we have all appreciated Apple choice of materials, colors and finishing on their product. I still love my unibody aluminum MacBook Pro so much for that. Is aluminum body a good choice for the iPad? I do not think so. If you are going to put your iPad on your laps how big are the chances that it will slip because of the modest grip?

This is not an iPad only issue. All of these range of device will suffer from usability problems.

We are all very excited about the availability of these kind of products on the market. I have already seen and tried a couple of devices that I would definitely buy, but I think they will not be as usable as we think, at least for some tasks.

For this reason I do not really think that these range of devices will be able to replace netbooks in the whole market. Maybe netbooks will disappear leaving space to better, cheaper and optimized notebooks, but there will be always some space for those kind of devices.

  1. Tablets will kill net-books when they get all "missing" things. It will happen in a 2-3 years timeframe. I don't have tablet, netbook neither, but when I did comparison, usability – I would still need both, although tablet is my next purchase. Not this year though.

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