In our iPad 2 review I mentioned that despite really liking the device, I never really could integrate the original iPad into my daily life in a meaningful way. I always ended up traveling with the iPad and a notebook or while around town I just kept a smartphone on me. That limited my iPad use to pretty much lounging around at the house, and even then I found myself turning to the laptop more often than not.

With the Xoom and iPad 2 I've been giving the tablet usage model another try. I've kept my usage mostly consumption focused. Browsing the web and reading emails. I really do prefer using a tablet for both of these things. I do wish the iPad 2 was faster when selecting lots of emails but the improvement over the original iPad is still considerable.

My holdup is this: while I love reading on the iPad 2, I have troubles contributing using it. Writing lengthy email responses or even posting comments on AT is just slower on the iPad than on a notebook. The solution can't be to just walk over to a laptop when I want to respond and just use the iPad when I'm reading - that seems horrible inefficient.

I could use a Bluetooth keyboard but that's also rather clunky. I feel like there has to be a better solution going forward, particularly as the tablet market grows. Is it voice? Or some sort of an integrated kickstand with more flexibility than what you get with the smart cover?

I feel like smartphones get a pass because it's easy to type on them regardless of where you're sitting. Tablets on the other hand need to be propped up against something and as a result are harder to type on in certain situations. They work fine on a desk but if I'm at a desk I'd rather use a notebook. What about when laying back on a couch?

I'm curious what you all think about this. Am I alone in finding tablet ergonomics a barrier? If not, what do you believe is the best solution for tablets going forward. I want to read and respond on a tablet as quickly as I can on a notebook. What needs to be built? Post your comments here and I'm sure we can get many of the tablet manufacturers to pay attention. I don't think they have stumbled across the best solution for this problem either, so what you say here might go a long way in making tablets better for everyone.

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  • oligarch - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    I've always felt that a keyboard on the back is the way to go.
    Sure it would take quite a bit of learning time but once you've
    got it, it should be super efficient.
    This could be good for smartphones too, that's why I think the
    Dell Streak form factor has a future: by my (very basic) test it is
    just big enough to make this kind of interface work.
    Reply
  • Donnie Darko - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    The biggest limitation to using the tablet design is that the working/viewable area is shared by the input area.

    This has a far greater impact than one initially thinks about. People expect to loose real estate when the virtual keyboard pops up, but looking past your hands over laid on the virtual keyboard consumes a lot more viewable area, and becomes distracting.

    Phones get a pass on this because of how you hold/input them (ie thumb type) and their usage models. Browsing, music, videos, most apps rely on short inputs periodically followed by long stretches of passive consumption. Therefore the time you spend interrupting your task by input is acceptable (like how they figured out what frequency to run your home circuit on so the flickering of your lights wouldn't drive you mad).

    Real work flow (like document creation/editing or long e-mails) require constant input with visual feed back (like how i'm reading what i'm typing right now). Thus on a tablet your hands are always in the way providing a constant distraction and limiting your productivity (since you have some 30% of the screen to actually work on) making people reject the form factor. If you're curious about this and don't have a tablet, just pretend to type a response on your current screen, even at 28" I would be ruining about 50% of my productive area if I had to use an on screen touch keyboard.

    All the current solutions offered for tablet work involve a dock of some sort that supports the screen and adds a keyboard (ie a traditional desktop/laptop layout). We've had decades of research and experimentation to optimize work flow from the typewriter forwards, and the screen above an input device is still the optimal solution (ie it hides your input from your feed back).

    The answer is that you'll never solve the input problem. Voice for dictation and commands is a good start to extend the "acceptable" usage model, but doesn't really help. It's bad enough listening to one side of a conversation (what pisses people off about public cell phone usage), wait until you have a work environment where you're trying to focus with 15+ people all mumbling/talking to/screaming at their device about what they are doing... The durability of your tablet will become paramount since it's primary use will be stuffing it in someone's mouth and then delivering a round house kick to decapitate them and return to glorious silence.

    At the end of the day, the real answer lies in convertible tablets. It's only an engineering issue (which means we'll solve it). They are too thick and heavy right now, but as super capacitors improve, screen tech gets thinner (like flexible LCD with embedded LED at the pixel level to get rid of the guts) we'll hit a point where you have the same form factor as current tablets, but you can slide up the screen to reveal a keyboard for when you need it.
    Reply
  • geniekid - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    +1

    Like Donnie Darko says, it's not so much the input area overlapping with the work area as it is your hands overlapping with the work area. Rather, your hands must be used on the screen. This means:
    1) If you're holding the tablet with your a hand, that hand is already out as a method of input, and you'll lose the productivity of being able to use both hands.
    2) Whatever your hand is clicking, the path from the tip of your finger to your arm is blocked display-wise. This hinders you when you have to interact with any area in the top left part of the screen while needing to see what's blocked by your arm. Not a very common scenario, but one that probably recurs when doing media editing/creation. Also bad for all those FPS games you play on your tablet :P

    I think the key problem is that the position of the tablet that allows for comfortable viewing is tied to the position of the tablet that allows for comfortable input. Most suggestions I've read, such as input area on the back, or pull out keyboard, try to make it so that the two ideal positions are the same. I think the real answer is to decouple the two positions, like with a keyboard. I think the tablet is fundamentally not ideal for productive input.
    Reply
  • chochosan - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    Yes, i completely agree with you, the future for tablets is... being able to be notebooks too. I really dont think that it is impossible to create a thin enough tablet/notebook hybrid right now, why should there be any problem converting a macbook Air for example into a tablet with the screen rotating and folding onto the keyboard? I mean technically its quite possible, the reason noone has made a thin enough hybrid so far i think is that all the current models are using windows - essentially a desktop OS, on a hardware mended to work as a tablet - a laptop.

    I think the direction should be the opposite - make a laptop variant redesigning a tablet; not a tablet variant redesigning a laptop.

    How hard would that be, really? Just put a keyboard on that magnet doubling up as a smart cover and a normal kickstand on the back of the tablet... voila!
    Reply
  • serkol - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    Voice recognition - I hate people who walk towards me talking into their ear pieces like zombies :-) Voice recognition may be good for some cases, but I would use it rather seldom...

    I think they should make onscreen keyboards better.

    For thumbtypists, the keyboard should be splittable. There should be an easy multi-finger gesture to split/reconnect the keyboard, for example the pinch like for zooming but when it's done on the keyboard.

    For other people, they should learn typing with one hand, holding the tablet with the other hand. There should be an easy multi-finger gesture to make the keyboard smaller (for one-hand typing) or larger. For example 3 finger swipe down on the keyboard would reduce the keyboard, the same swipe up would restore it's size.
    Reply
  • quillaja - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    There actually are R and L handed Dvorák keyboard layouts for use with only 1 hand. Reply
  • xenon481 - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    The problems is much more a matter of ergonomics and positioning, and less so about tactile response.

    I can touch type on the iPad fairly decently (not as fast as a physical keyboard) at about 50wpm. The problem is that when I'm doing so, I'm trying to blog from stadium seating where my thighs are likely in a downward sloping position. This forces me to do all kinds of contortions trying to lift the iPad on my knees and keep it from sliding away.

    I would love to try using the iPad2's Smart Cover on my knees, but I only have an iPad1.
    Reply
  • murraymartini - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    I've been using the original iPad for since it came out and I just replaced it with the iPad 2. My primary use of the iPad is browsing the web and personal email and my iPad lives in the living room on the coffee table 99% of the time.

    I have no issues with the tablet input method now. I agree that it took time to get adjusted to it in the beginning, but once you've mastered the new input method, nothing beats being able to use it laying on the couch while watch TV or relaxing listening to music. I think because we are so used to physical keyboards and devices (heck, I've been typing on a keyboard for over 25 years), some people have a hard time adjusting to a new form of input mechanism.

    I think everyone should spend some time to master the new input method and see how you adjust. If you just can't adapt to it, then you should stick to the good o laptop.
    Reply
  • wittaker25 - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    I've always felt that people have tried to force tablets into their workflows. I'm my view, the most efficient digital tools are a smartphone if you are on the move, and a laptop if you are stationary. A laptop provides faster input and more screen real-estate than a tablet; a smartphone provides more mobility.

    Now does that mean, I think tablets are going to die out? Not at all. But I do think the hype will die down over time and we will see them used more and more frequently as a niche device.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - link

    I always liked the idea of the curved keyboard that is sized specifically for your thumbs’ position and travel.

    This would mean a smarter tablet with sensors that would know how and where you’re holding the device so it can accommodate your specific needs.

    I also think that input sensors on the backside would also be useful. For example, if I am holding my iPad with two hands and want to switch an app or get back to the Home Screen I need to hit the Home Button at least once or use fingers on the screen which means holding the device with one hand. I have enabled the Multitouch Gestures hidden in iOS 4.3’s dev mode, and they are great, but I’d like to have an option to maintain a hold on the device with both hands and use the tips of my fingers underneath to quickly and easily switch apps and other interactions that feel natural when holding the device.
    Reply

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