Apple’s long-awaited announcement of its tablet device, the iPad, has been met with the usual blogosphere mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, perhaps leaning slightly more to the scepticism side than usual. Questions abound: how many will it sell? Will the lack of Flash support kill it off? Will it destroy or save publishing as we know it?
And what - if anything - will be the research impact of the iPad? To answer that we have to look at another of those big and thorny questions: how will people hold it?
Holding a roughly A4 size flat object with one hand and manipulating its surface with the other is not a difficult skill to master, though it’s been a good hundred years - circa the decline of slates in schools - since most people have had to do it. One group never lost the knack, though - face to face researchers and their clipboards. Think of the iPad as an iClipboard and the possibilities for research suddenly become rather more apparent!
I’m not being wholly frivolous when I say that tablet touchscreen devices might revive F2F research, at least as a premium niche. The devices will be easier for two people to use than a laptop or netbook, so collaboration between a researcher and a participant will become simpler. Touchscreen interfaces make certain kinds of survey question more intuitive and easier - even the much hated grids might become a good deal more tolerable. Once the devices come with cameras attached, augmented reality will enter the picture, and the larger screen makes “on the ground” tagging and annotating of pictures and views more feasible.
What about research apps for tablet users to self-complete? Here things start to get a little murkier - Apple’s device, at least, doesn’t support Flash, which means a lot of the “more engaging” survey apps being built at the moment won’t run on it. According to Forrester, we’re now entering the age of the “splinternet”, where unified standards and protocols and open access are replaced by walled content platforms (like Facebook), and device-dependent applications. Mobile researchers are having to wrestle with the near-impossibility of a one-size-fits-all solution: the rest of us may soon be in the same boat.