I’ve been watching two interesting computing phenomenons over the last 2 years.
The first (for me to notice) was the introduction of the iPhone, well it was hard not to when suddenly a whole raft of people who were not the usual ilk of mac fanboys become remarkably smug and started touting their new shinny touch screen devices. In a deft blow Apple succeeded in evolving mobile telephones into devices that also allowed people to read their emails and surf the internet with an experience that wasn’t akin to trying to set the time on a Rolex watch with a JCB. They pushed the technology, the economics and the social aspects of owning a mobile telephone all at once and created a phenomenal success.
The other less glamorous revolution that was going on I discovered on a trip to Spain. For the last seven years I have been going on holiday and often to choose to stay in youth hostels, a) because it is cheap b) because it allows me to glimpse what young people now think is normal (as well as allowing me to pretend to be young again). On my last trip I was surprised to see a mixture of young American and European travellers using NETBOOKS to send reassurance home to their mothers that they were NOT out getting drunk on cheap Spanish beer every night. No longer were they queuing up to use a rather battered PC connected to the internet encrusted with the detritus of hundred of people with dreadlocks and rife with spyware, no instead they had their own cheap, disposable, low powered netbooks to connect to any wifi hotspot they pleased.
This was s fundamental shift in the idea of owning a computer, making them and more importantly the internet far more accessible to the masses. This was cemented when my sister brought one. Jeff Attwood has come to a similar conclusion and you can read about it here
So what does this have to do with tablet computing?
Well, I believe that tablet computing is an evolution of both of these two parallel streams of computing experience. The successful tablet PC will combine the portability and screen resolution of a netbook with the interface and input devices of the iPhone. The other factors involved, like app store, 3g data access, closed environment have all be refined to a point of maturity by Apple and created a business model for anyone with the strength of character and an ounce of sense to expand upon. So lets face it tablet PC’s are going to be big.
But from my point of view, what does this mean for web development? Well, it means the standard 1024×800 screen is not dead - and as a matter of course you should be testing your web site to see how they display on these things. The interface controls from the iPhone, multi touch, and gestures are here to stay and we need to figure out how to usability test them accurately and modify them for maximum user experience. We need to asses what this hardware is capable of and how we maximize performance while including all these new features and potential edge cases. But most importantly we need to figure what people are using these devices for that they don’t get from their current experience - what can we do to really take advantage of all these key features in new and innovative ways?
Here are some links I saw on Engadget (tonight) to whet your appetite: