I have just bought myself an iPad 3, which is my first foray into actually owning a tablet device. Although I have used them at friends and at work since the first incarnation of Apple’s trend setting device emerged, until now I haven’t actually taken that leap. But when I was out having dinner with my wife the other day I also overheard a conversation where one woman said that she was thinking of replacing her ageing computer with an iPad. And this got me to wondering; why do we have such a fascination is with tablet devices?
The concept of a tablet isn’t exactly a new one. The Roman’s taught their children to read and write with wax tablets and used them to document and share ideas. It certainly saved carrying round reams of paper and was convenient to carry with you. Is this the reason why we like tablet devices, convenience? I think it is definitely a key part, but perhaps it is the evolution of the browsing experience which can also explain why we love them so much?
Back in the dark days of home computing, where a hulking great machine sat in a dim dark corner of the room, grunting away and squealing like a pig every time you went online, browsing was a very individual experience and largely confined to the realms of research. The internet was a reference point but not much more (unless you wanted to download an essay to submit as your own!). With the proliferation of home wi-fi networks though, we were suddenly able to sit in our comfy armchairs or lie on the bed with our heads buried in our shiny laptops instead, with no need to talk to anyone else at all. The evolution of the web from a research tool to an entertainment provider also meant we started to spend more time online, with social networks drawing more of us online with each passing day. But laptops simply aren’t the most ideal design for easy browsing (or for fitting on our laps whilst crushed into overly small train seats).
Smart phones were the next logical step, with people wanting to access their web experience whilst on the move, without having to haul around a laptop, but even today a lot of sites are simply not suitable for a good browsing experience. So along came tablet devices, with the ability to have a convenient and portable experience but on a full resolution screen. But more than that, suddenly we had a device designed to be ergonomically pleasing to use.
Tablets provide a portable experience, that feels natural, is convenient in size and easy to use. What I think is most amazing is that tablets, more than any other device, have started to bridge the age gap in using technology. The ease of use makes it simple for my 3 year old to sit and play on apps, or for my grandmother to read a news article. It is convenient to use in the car on journeys so our children can watch films in high definition or for me to take notes in a meeting. In short, it really is a master of all trades rather than a jack of one (to mix an analogy).
But what does all this mean for the digital world and how we develop websites? My next blog post will talk about how tablet devices have changed both the way in which we consume the internet and what we expect from it.