13 August 2011

Keep taking the tablets (2)

OK ... continuing from my initial post in this thread ... Question 1 (from Clarissa Vincent, Frank Jones and Zuleika Ferris in particular): what contribution does a tablet, as such, make to my personal ICT ecosystem? This has to be the core of the thing; unless a tablet, in and of itself, does something which I need, it will be dead weight. So; here, in no particular order, are (to keep things short) four of the many praises I could sing:

  • I spend a fair amount of time in meetings. I tend to make meeting notes on paper and type them up afterwards, so a keyboard isn't a necessity here. I do, however, use a computer as a reference resource: everything from the agenda to retrieving statistics, reports, collateral information related to whatever is being discussed. A conventional clamshell, even a small netbook, sits between its user and the rest of the table like a barrier; it changes group dynamics. A tablet, lying flat on the table, however, has no such effect. Furthermore, mouse and keyboard have a distracting effect which fingers moving discretely across the surface of a flat tablet avoid.

  • I make a lot of use of visual material (maps, charts, plots, photographs), both on my own and in discussion with others. A tablet provides a far more intuitive way to interact with such material – especially when several people are interacting. Just before writing this, I was talking to a dive master, a fishing boat captain and a marine biologist about plans for a sea bed search; all four of us, as we talked, were interactively pinching and zooming and panning a composite satellite image and seabed chart to illustrate our own points or explore and understand each others. you can't do that on a conventional display. The same is true in discussing concepts with groups of students.
  • Despite my repeatedly aired æsthetic preference for paper books over digital, I do use e-readers for many practical purposes ... and unlike most people I talk to, I find the quality of reading experience on the tablet far superior to that on an e-ink device. There is also the advantage that I am not tied into any one format or content provider; I have a virtual Kindle, so can buy and Kindle texts, but can equally well move to any other alternative as required. Switching back and forth between books is quick and easy compared to any of the dedicated devices, too. Then there are the same advantages of quick and easy resizing as I mentioned in connection with maps and so on: reading a paper, I can enlarge a diagram to exactly the right size for close examination with a flick of finger and thumb, then return the page to normal reading size just as quickly. I have to admit that weight and size are greater (but I'm carrying it anyway, for the other reasons listed here), and battery life shorter (but still plenty long enough; I'll cover this later, in another section) than in a Kindle or equivalent reader, but find the trade offs more than worthwhile.
  • A tablet is a wonderful replacement for a photographic portfolio. I can carry as many sets and sequences of pictures as I like, without any weight penalty beyond the table itself – and the display quality is superb. When my niece asked to see a particular sequence a couple of days ago, in a pub, in the middle of a meal, it was no problem to do so. When an editor who asked for one set suddenly shows an interest in another, I have them to hand.

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