According to a recent Bernstein research study, Apple’s iPad has become the most rapidly adopted non-telephone technology ever. One could say the tablet is blazing the trail for a whole new category of technology that creates a very different kind of user experience. On one hand, the publishing industry is hailing the iPad as the heir apparent of newspapers and magazines. On another, developers see it as the canvas against which they can create highly imaginative and engaging new apps. Heck, even Steve Jobs said it was perhaps the most important product he's created in his entire career.
At CES, about a dozen new tablets were previewed, powered by Android, Blackberry and Windows. Like the smartphone, tablets are more than just gadgets. They’re changing the way people view and interact with online content. And, as market researchers, any device that changes people’s lives is something we must pay close attention to.
Below are three examples of how I see tablets potentially changing the research industry.
A new standard in intercept interviewing
Tablets will become the de facto standard in mobile computer-assisted personal interviewing (mCAPI). Sleek and light, tablets are a radical re-thinking on the heavy, expensive tablet PCs of the past. Beyond offering practical logistical advantages, their native 3G connectivity means that data is being stored in the cloud, minimizing risk of it being lost due to hardware malfunctions. Just as important, the multi-touch interface makes administering and participating in intercept interviews remarkably easy.
A new breed of research-centric apps
Taking advantage of the multi-touch interface, tablets will usher in a whole new category of interactive research apps. This new breed of apps will not only be fun for respondents to use, but will allow researchers the ability to track new streams of data. For example, where respondents touch the screen, what order they do things in, and what they choose not to interact with can all tell a story. As Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine suggested at TMRE last November, the iPad could become the next best thing to eye-tracking research.
A "lean-back" market research paradigm
The traditional PC-based online experience is considered a lean-forward experience. As media industry blogger Jeremy Rue defines it, "The idea behind lean-forward mediums is that people are engaged when they use the Web. They are in scanning mode, actively looking for content, and their attention span is much shorter." This lean-forward posture perfectly describes the current online research paradigm. But, there is a downside to this lean-forward “do” mode. In research, it can encourage a culture of serial survey-taking and “professional” respondents who click through surveys, not giving much thought to their responses.
By contrast, tablets create a "lean-back" experience. According to Rue, a lean-back experience is characterized by more leisurely immersing in and consuming content. The very nature of the tablet’s form-factor and tactile interactivity lends itself to a more reflective state of mind. In this context, respondents may be more apt to digest and thoughtfully respond to the research questions at hand.
These are just a few ways I envision tablets finding their place in the future of research. I’d love to hear your thoughts.