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Saturday, 28 November 2015

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Will the iPad kill the paper survey?


It's great to finally see the level of excitement about mobile surveys that currently pervades the MR industry. When we started Techneos Systems 15 years ago we thought it would be the next big thing for research. We were wrong - it was and has been the Internet until very recently. In my view, focus on the internet is what has delayed the adoption of mobile computing based research techniques. The iPad, boosted by all the hype that accompanies Apple entering a new product space, simply launched at the perfect time to fire up an industry that is finally ready to adopt mobile solutions. There have been many mobile consumer devices we have used over the years, starting with Apple's Newton Messagepad in the early 1990s. Many were more affordable than the iPad, with some of the models from Palm listing for $99. The pen-based interface used by the Messagepad and Palm devices was familiar to all age groups - I was more impressed by senior citizens in the '90s, who had never used a computer, asking to complete a survey on the handheld themselves, than I am by kids today who grow up surrounded by computing devices and take to them easily. Battery life has always been critical, so any device that can't run for 8 hours plus on a single charge or with a battery change is poorly suited to interview work. Weight is another important criteria. We've found that 2 pounds (about 900 grams) is the limit for all day use. The iPad raises the bar in this regard, with a powerful processor, good battery life, and a beautiful screen in 1.6 pounds (730g) or less. Wireless is a wonderful capability, but still can't be relied on everywhere that a researcher might want to gather insight from the point of experience. I don't have a positive outlook about the iPad App Store's impact on research. While the wealth of available applications contributes to the iPad's popularity, I predict that given some mainstream media exposure of mobile survey successes, there will be a glut of generic survey applications pumped out by developers whose survey expertise consists of having completed some. Look to the history of internet surveys for an indication of where that could lead. So an answer to the article's title question, from someone who a decade and a half ago bet his savings and livelihood on mobile research becoming mainstream: the battle has been fought, the outcome is not in doubt, but when researchers finally acknowledge the general superiority of mobile computing devices over paper, credit the iPad with striking a very timely blow - nothing more.

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8:41 pm