Tablets in the office

Currently I’m working on my MSc project and getting excited about all the user research I need to do. I’ve decided to briefly describe the whole project so I can post some updates later and share things I learn along the way.

The research I’m doing aims to investigate how people use touch-screen tablets in the office environment and what possible ergonomic issues could arise as a result.

So, why tablets? Why this particular topic?

Well, there are few reasons:

  1. I have an iPad and I find it completely useless. I’ve started using it lately again for research purposes, but I still can’t see the point. It’s big, it’s clunky, the glassy screen can be irritating, the touch keyboard is driving me crazy… And yet others are using tablets for various reasons, more and more people are using them at work. Why? I’d like to understand that. (In the name of science I’m typing this on my iPad. I’m not enjoying it.)
  2. I work for a media company and since I’m a part-time student I needed to find a topic somewhat relevant to my work to be able to justify the time off needed for research, and everyone knows publishers are crazy about tablets in general and iPads in particular. So I’d like to learn what kind of work related information people access on their tablets, where they access the information (Office vs. Home vs. Commute) and why they do it in the first place.
  3. Last year I took a couple of ergonomics modules and found them both fascinating and enjoyable, and as a result I really wanted to do something ergonomics-related. So with points 1 and 2 in mind I decided to focus on ergonomic aspects of tablets, especially since offices seem to be unprepared for the new devices and from what I’ve seen so far, tablets encourage a bad posture and could potentially lead to health problems. And there are no tablet-specific health & safety regulations yet. The latest report covering the use of tablets in the office environment [PDF] was published in 2000 and is not really relevant.

Research – how and why?

I’ve recently finished interviewing people and taking photos of them using their tablets. Later I will be running and online survey based on the interview findings (taking advantage of being a part-time student here: I wouldn’t have enough time for a survey if I was doing the project over one summer). I am also going to analyse the posture on photos using REBA and focus on wrist angles while using the touch keyboard (looking at various screen orientations, typing techniques and a regular vs. a split keyboard). Sounds like fun! There will also be a more detailed health and safety regulations analysis, but it’s not as exciting (although it still IS exciting).

The only problem I’ve encountered so far is the lack of non-Apple tablets. Ambitiously, I wanted to focus on “touch-screen tablet devices” but after interviewing 11 people I have information about two tablets only: iPad and iPad2. I probably shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed, but I still am.

A colleague at work bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab today, so at least I have some keyboard measurements and photos, but no usage data. It looks like iPad, but is it really as nice? My interview participants tend to love their iPads – do owners of other tablets love their devices too? Do they use them for work? Do they use them in their offices? I don’t know and it bugs me a bit.

Oh well, hopefully my survey respondents won’t all be Apple’s fanboys. And in the meantime, if any of you use other tablets (Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, Blackberry Playbook, some obscure thingy I’ve never heard of), do let me know, I may want to smile and offer you some home baked muffins.

Edit: If you use a tablet for work or know someone who does, please take my survey or forward the link.

~Falka, 19 August 11