Proceeding as I am with my own long-term experiment with using my iPad 2 as a work tool, I was very interested in reading through IDG’s iPad for Business Survey 2012, which the market research firm released on Monday.
The report’s authors note that since its launch in January 2010, the iPad has become part of daily life for up to 60 million users worldwide, and that while much has been written about the iPad as a consumer “stay-at-home” device, used predominantly for content consumption, citing a recent survey of US consumers that found 60 percent of iPads never leave the home, and 70 percent of usage occurs in the living room.
However, what’s particularly interesting about the findings of this global survey of iPad-using IT and business decision-makers, is that these professional users differ from the broader iPad-using population of consumers in that they use their iPads more intensively, and across a wider range of scenarios. For example, 51% of IT decision-makers say they “always” use their iPad at work (and a further 40% say they sometimes use it at work), and 79 percent say they “always” use their iPads “on the move.”
On the other hand, when it comes to leisure-related usage, only 31% say they “always” use their iPad for entertainment, and just 42% say they use it for personal communication. IT and enterprise professionals appear to be typically using their iPads as dual-purpose work/leisure devices, with a relatively strong emphasis on work functionality, and an extremely heavy emphasis on on-the-move usage to consume time-shifted content while in transit between locations — three-quarters of respondents saying they use their iPad for “reading”.
My own iPad usage as it’s been evolving is not typical of either group. I do use the ‘Pad as my primary non-work Web access device, in pretty much every room of the house. However, it’s also more and more getting tasked with work-related stuff, including elements of content creation, although my Mac laptop running OS X remains very much my primary content creation workhorse.
I also don’t take my iPad mobile a lot, and a Mac notebook is still my main “road” computer, but that’s more because of geography and infrastructure limitations (ie: no 3G coverage in my neck of the woods) than the physical qualities of the device itself. The iPad’s advantages as a mobile computer are self-evident. It’s just that it’s pretty useless without an Internet hookup, while the Mac is a much more comprehensively self-contained device with enough data storage capacity to make it a practical work platform untethered, and it also supports dial-up Internet, which is still a useful capability in these parts.
Where the iPad excels, however, is in its easy and comfortable (sort of) portability. I use the “sort of” qualifier here, because the iPad itself is a lousy typing platform. In an Infoworld article titled “The Hidden Danger Of Touchscreens,” Franklin Tessler, M.D., C.M. notes that repetitive stress injuries, diseases caused by unnatural postures and forces, and eyestrain, can all be associated with touchscreen computer use, noting that tablets and smartphones almost guarantee that people will address them in ergonomically awkward ways that promote injury because of the ease in accessing them almost anywhere and in any position — most of which involve poor posture.
I’ve actually found the virtual keyboard a lot more tolerable than I had expected, but I wouldn’t want to oversell that point. A real keyboard, whether freestanding or in a laptop, is light-years better than the on-screen version and the iOS’s software support. However, where the iPad really falls down (sometimes literally) as an input platform is in ergonomics. Both flat on your lap or on a desktop or table, the body-English is horrendous in a variety of ways. Dr. Tessler says that horizontal use is typically less stressful, especially if the tablet is in a comfortable position for your arms and hands similar to the way you should use a keyboard on a laptop or desktop PC. However, ergonomically a tablet configuration is even worse than the already far-from-ideal clamshell laptop form factor because the display is on the same plane as the typing interface, usually positioned at or near lap level, which means you’re likely to bend your neck at an unhealthy angle.
You can of course connect a Bluetooth keyboard and put the iPad on a laptop stand, but tapping, dragging, swiping, etc. on a vertically oriented touchscreen is much more physically stressful than using a touchpad or mouse with a laptop. Dr. Tessler cites the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s observation at a press conference in October 2010 that “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical,” noting that the more vertically oriented a touchscreen is positioned, the more you have to bend your wrist to type, putting more pressure on the median nerve and the other structures in the carpal tunnel in the wrist, and you’ll have to reach forward and lift your arm against gravity, which tires your muscles rapidly. He suggests that for typing and tapping, shallow angles (about 30 degrees) are best. It’s also arguable that if you’re going to have to drag a stand and keyboard along, you might as well just take a laptop.
I also miss the ability to have multiple windows from multiple applications open on the same screen and real multitasking support, which despite lip-service to the contrary, is mythological on iOS devices. Another gripe it that the iPad’s display is already pretty small, and with the keyboard active that space is cut in half or less, so you’re viewing your work through a gun-slit. Puts me in mind of those old dedicated word processors in the 1980s.
IDG says its survey confirms that iPads are better suited to consumption, rather than generation, of content. However, despite its manifold shortcomings as a content creation device, the iPad is seductive, and its combination of portability and low effort operation tend to rope you in. That said, IDG notes that while IT and business professional users are finding that iPads can be viable laptop substitutes to a degree, a majority of professionals still use laptops, and only slightly greater then ten percent of respondents said that their iPad has “completely replaced” a laptop, while more than half say it has “partly replaced” their laptop, but for most, the iPad isn’t a substitute for an existing tool or device but rather a supplement whose functionality overlaps with other devices, such as laptops, MP3 players, TV/DVD recorders, games consoles, and 43% even describe the iPad as a part-substitute for their smartphone as a platform for document reading, and to a lesser extent web browsing, while on the move. The report says that the iPad has certainly curtailed laptop usage levels, with nearly three-quarters of respondents saying that they “carry their laptop around less” now that they own an iPad.
What the iPad IS replacing is traditional media and patterns of content consumption, with iPad-owning IT and business professionals rapidly migrating away from newspapers and printed books, and to a lesser extent away from DVD-based audio-visual content as well and toward digital alternatives with the iPad as delivery medium, and that this transition is taking place with striking speed. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that owning an iPad has reduced the frequency with which they purchase newspapers and books, and half said that owning an iPad means they are less likely to purchase films on DVD. IDG notes that as tablet computing emerges into the mainstream, both media owners and marketers who produce content will need to consider the implications carefully.
IDG observes that markets for physical media are already in decline, and on this survey’s evidence, tablet computing will hasten their demise. Particularly affected will be advertising funded media (newspapers and magazines), especially given that readers who can afford iPads tend to be more demographically desirable than those who can’t, denying publishers the opportunity to monetize their most valuable readers via print advertising, which remains relatively lucrative so far. Again, I guess I’m atypical. I still subscribe to several hard-copy newspapers and magazines, and much prefer the experience of reading for pleasure off the ink-on-paper page rather than on an electronic screen. Even when the same content is available in either medium, as it usually is for print subscribers, I’ll opt by preference for the hard-copy medium, and I find the concept of book-reading on the iPad particularly unattractive. Were I obliged to read book-length literature in eelectronic form, I would prefer an e-ink device like Amazon’s Kindle to the iPad’s brightly but harshly backlit display.
But that’s me. IDG found that IT and business professionals use their iPads most intensively for tasks like Web browsing, reading and news consumption, which were the top three usage contexts identified by professionals worldwide. In addition, a majority (54%) of IT and business professionals “always” use their iPad for work communication.
Apple will also be happy to hear that IT and business professionals’ satisfaction levels with the iPad are extremely high, with only 17% saying they would consider buying a different brand of tablet device next time.
The takeaway here is that the iPad (mostly) is disrupting the PC landscape in business environments as well as consumer space, but not totally displacing laptops by any means.
Blogging for Tech.pinions this week, Ben Bajarin observes that research indicates that many consumers are buying iPads partial PC replacements, which means that instead of getting a new PC they bought an iPad, while holding on to their old PC as a backup for when a mouse and keyboard are necessary, or just more efficient and less frustrating than the imprecisions of pawing at a touchscreen.
Bajarin says that once they’ve integrated an iPad into their workflow, at least some users realize they need the PC less and less for many tasks, especially when the iPad is paired with a keyboard, and the iPad suffices for their needs the majority of time. However, while I am using my iPad more these days, and that’s displacing use that would previously have gone on my laptops, I don’t consider the iPad as even a remotely viable platform for serious production use. Most of the work-related stuff I do with it is research, rough-drafting, and some editing, although the iOS’s text handling deficiencies kneecap the ‘Pad as a proofing and editing platform. And working with graphics is soooo much easier and more efficient on a Mac.
I had hoped the iPad might simplify my life, but to a cconsiderableextent it has further complicated it. I would really miss the iPad for its instant-on handiness and easy portability, but what I really want is those qualities combined with a proper computer’s desktop OS, power, storage capacity, keyboard/cursor input, and general tractability.
Ben Bajarin thinks such a device may be coming in the form of Tablet / PC hybrids – touchscreen computers with detachable keyboard, which he maintains if done right will give users a two-in-one experience where they can have a tablet when they want it and a traditional mouse and keyboard experience when they want it, all in the same product, but the big qualifier is “if done right.”
Will Apple take up that challenge? In the meantime, I’m beginning to think that the closest current approximation of what would suit me best is the MacBook Air, although I intend on persevering with my iPad experimentation for now.
You can download the IDG Connect world iPad business use survey report at: