So, having established that the Roman’s beat us to the idea of tablet devices, the bigger question is ‘what does this mean to us as digital practitioners?’
Sceptics might say that there is no reason that tablets should affect online experience but I don’t agree with this and I think our children are the key reason why. My daughter, who is three and a half, currently loves nothing more than to perch the iPad on her lap, load up the Angry Birds app and proceed to fling birds at the smug little piggies and watch them explode. She has no issue at all with gestural commands, in fact for her it seems quite natural and she flips through the menus at great rapidity – and I would point out that we didn’t teach her this, she just intuitively seemed to know how to do it! When I was three and a half I think I was playing with model tractors in the garden!
Yes ok, Angry Birds isn’t a website I grant you, but this is relevant because it is apps like these that are teaching are children how to use tablets. It is building an expectation for how technology should work and how the software on them should work as well. A friend of mine who also has a three year old told me that the other day she walked up to the TV and tried to change the channel as if it were a touch screen…she had transfered her learned behaviour from one piece of hardware to another and was confused when it didn’t work. What is this strange rectangular thing called a remote that you old people use (she may have thought)?
The experience isn’t much different for myself (and no doubt others like me). The apps I have installed are things like the Guardian’s Eyewitness app, a charming little daily look at the world through the view of a photograph, or the Epicurious app that is an easy to use recipe book. I like these apps because the content can be navigated easily, the page is designed to suit a large touchscreen (and to showcase imagery heavy content) and I can flick through the content using the gestural interaction that makes it all so easy.
In the case of Epicurious, I use it in the kitchen when cooking as it is so easy to read and move through the recipe, saves having a bulky great book (and I can play music at the same time) and I don’t have to constantly get close to the screen to see it (like on a mobile). A friend of mine uses his iPad in the bath to watch videos and read Kindle style books (a bit high risk for me, but each to their own)!
A tablet can be everything to everyone, but more than that, it has taken the browsing experience away from the computer and made it a truly open and mobile one that can be all things to all people of all ages. The biggest shift in the web is one that I believe is still to come and it will come as our children grow older. They are growing up being taught how a good experience works, using high end touch screen hardware with simple, neat and well designed navigation and highly visual GUIs. They will grow up expecting experiences that match this and tey will expect new sites to exceed it. Sites that lag behind will be lost to the new world of inteactive, gamification heavy, visually stunning apps and websites that will be accessed from literally anywhere at anytime…and they will be accessed from mobile devices like tablets and not from desktop computers. The future is already now, in the next couple of years mobile and tablet browsing will surpass desktop browsing and with it a new expecatation of how the web should work.
Tablets make the world wide web and all it’s glorious content (your glorious content) more accessible to all ages, but it comes with an expectation. We will need to grab attention early and make the experiences better if we want to be a part of it, or accept that we are a thing of the past and watch as others succeed where we fail.