Apple iPad - the ultimate commuting gadget?

People using a laptop on a train

Over the last week after the Apple iPad was announced, I decided to conduct some totally unscientific but very informative ethnographic research project: I walked the full length of the train on my way to and from work, and looked at what sort of electronic devices other commuters were using and, more crucially, what they were using them for.

As you may have noticed if you’ve ever been on a peak-hour commuter train, there are lots of people using a laptop. All of the ones I noticed were engaged in one of the following tasks:

  • Reading or writing email
  • Reading or editing a document (Word or PDF), spreadsheet or presentation
  • Watching a video
  • Browsing or editing photographs

In fact, in a couple of years of commuting & randomly peeking at people’s screens, only a few times I saw people doing any other specialised tasks such as editing videos or using architectural design software. I’ve also seen over time a few people using more specialised devices such as eBook readers & portable DVDplayers.

If most of the above sounds like a list of things that the iPad is designed to do very well, I doubt it’s a coincidence. After all, commuters are an important demographic (according to a 2009 study, workers in the UK spend on average 52.6 minutes commuting every day) and I doubt Apple would want to ignore it.

And before you say “oh, but the iPad doesn’t multitask”, I’ve got another observation up my sleeve. One of these days I sat next to a couple of people using their laptops for the duration of my trip. All of them seemed to work on one document all the time, and were mostly reading or making minor edits. This is also why we shouldn’t worry too much about the ergonomics of the iPad. Sure, it’s probably not well suited to typing long documents (not without an external keyboard), but the seats and tables on a train, bus or plane aren’t really designed to accommodate long typing sessions on a laptop either.

As I’m typing this on the train, I have to keep my hands at an awkward angle in order to use my laptop keyboard. Maybe an iPad sitting in my lap would be better?

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