What is Tablet Computing?

In the past year, the new crop of tablet computers have captured the imagination of educators and museum professionals around the world. Led by the incredible success of the iPad, which in 2011 was selling at the rate of more than 3 million units a month, other similar devices such as HP's TouchPad have also begun to enter this rapidly growing new market. In the process, tablets (a form that is distinct from tablet PCs) have come to be viewed as not just a new category of mobile devices, but indeed a new technology in its own right, one that blends features of laptops, smart phones, and earlier tablet computers with always connected Internet and thousands of apps with which to personalize the experience. As these new devices have become more used and understood, it is clear that they are independent and distinct from other mobile devices such as smart phones, eReaders, or tablet PCs. With significantly larger screens and richer gestured-based interfaces than their smartphone predecessors, they are ideal tools for sharing content, videos, images and presentations because they are easy for anyone to use, visually compelling, and highly portable.

As new entries come to market, it is becoming clear that there are two distinct approaches to enabling network access that are manifesting themselves in the tablet market. At one end are tablets that take advantage, much like smart phones, of the cellular 3G and 4G networks as their primary mode of accessing the Internet; at the other end are devices like the lowest priced iPad, that use WiFi exclusively for network connections, and rely on access to wireless networks for their connectivity. Another distinguishing factor that is emerging among tablets is between those aimed primarily at the home and education markets, and those aimed at business and enterprise. All of the current tablets on the market offer access to a marketplace for downloadable applications, although as the early market leader, Apple's app store has a great many more options in this regard than newer entrants. For learning institutions, tablets offer the enticing potential of making one-to-one personalized 24-7 computing an affordable reality. Museums are looking at tablets as docent resources, as an ideal device for informal learning, and even as an alternative to in-gallery audio and smart-phone tours.

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How can we maximise the ability of Higher and Further Education institutions and their learning technology innovators to take advantage of this emerging technology and its applications?

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

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  • This is almost like saying 12 years ago whether the Internet is relevant to museums. There are many apps for smart phones and now that not only web-based environments have moved to the portable screen, the tiny iPhone/Android versions are scaling up to look even smarter on their big brother tablets. For all the good reasons mentioned above, museums are already deeply committed to production - whether they enable web-based browsing or author dedicated apps of museum content. At the same time, the tablet is fast becoming the de rigueur choice of the x-generation who might not be able to afford anything more substantial. Combine this with cloud computing and tablets look like they are here to stay. - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 20, 2011
  • I tend to think that smartphones will remain the preferred device for personal, in-gallery use by visitors because they fit in your pocket. I do think that tablets are being fruitfully explored as "living labels" in the gallery, and as a comparatively elegant, small way to deliver video content precisely where it is needed, i,e. next to an object it relates to. I suspect tablets will be used more at home and on the run, i.e. you are sitting in a restaurant or cafĂ© and whip it out, or you use it for bedtime reading, and that is when you access museum-originated content. As I said in the discussion of mobile devices, I would like to see museums do a better job of linking these different experiences (and the modes of content creation and strategy developed for each).- john.weber john.weber Aug 26, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011~I believe that the smartphone and tablet device are just transition devices on the road to the average individual's fully portable, ubiquitous presence and co-habitation with the internet and associated services. I agree that both types of devices (smartphones and tablets) will be relevant for a few more years, but that in the near future, more flexible and energy efficient devices will replace them. Coupled with currently emerging technologies such as audio implants, smart contact lenses, and voice recognition, the need for keyboards and mice will quickly transition to pocket-sized haptic interfaces that will act as the gesture- and voice-based inputs for sophisticated and tiny computing devices. The smartphone glued to the side of a person's head will disappear and be replaced with nearly invisible communication devices.
  • iPads are sexy and exciting and many museum visitors and staff want to interact with them.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • iPads are particular great for museums because they are hardcore multi-taskers: museums can create apps for individual exhibits and/or the museum as a whole; they are excellent for docent tours with groups of 10-12 people; they are kid-friendly for family days (tons of drawing programs); they can replace the usual headsets or information kiosks; geolocation can point you to other areas/exhibits in the museum you'd be interested in; the list continues to grow daily, which is what excites me most!- Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011
  • Tablets will ring a new era of good old multimedia and will give a new platform to the content of CD-ROMs. All the other mobiles etc. are smart but not really helpful to transfer this kind of often multicomplex interactive content. - harald.kraemer harald.kraemer Aug 31, 2011
  • - scott.sayre scott.sayre Aug 31, 2011 Tablet's larger screens offer museum's the visually rich, gesture-based experience that mobile phones lack just based on their form factor. The range of interpretive possibilities for a $500, large screen, gesture-based, rock-solid multimedia delivery device is so huge many museums are still just wrapping their heads around how it can be used. There are already, dozens of different commercial mounts available for "installing" these devices. http://ipadkioskmount.com/, http://www.beyondkiosks.com/product.php?id=64
  • Not sure how long they'll last, but for now tablet computers are great platforms for docents and group learning environments. - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

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  • Tablets and tiny hands. Has anyone seen a 2-year-old at his or her iPad - its formidable! - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 20, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011If there is a missing theme, possibly it's the integration of several of the emerging and extant technologies examined in the Horizon studies into a cyber-environment for the individual. Perhaps the focus should be less on the singular technologies, although those iterations will occur novelly and singularly at first (as with internet, geolocation and location-based services, augmented reality, etc.). The focus might be more appropriately on the combining of such technologies to create a immersive, personalized digital- or cyber-environment in which most of the population will soon be moving about its daily activities—including during visits to the museum and in school.
  • agree with both the above, touchscreens and in particular tablets for their size are changing learning and interaction, and expectations, from a very young age. Combined immersive tech is the natural direction for the singular technologies. - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Aug 30, 2011
  • The larger screen moves the interaction into a more social space than on a smartphone which is an individual space. - rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011 I agree; as a subset of mobile, tablets are differentiated most importantly for museums by their affordance for social interaction (in-gallery shared use by visitors, small-group presentation, etc.) due to display size, even more than they are by that physical factor's other important effects (on design, etc.). - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 31, 2011
  • Form factor is also conducive to more in-depth exploration than a mobile phone. People tend to sit and explore content in more detail. Anecdotally more people with smart phones in galleries, those with tablets in cafes and interstitial spaces with seating. - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Sep 1, 2011
  • I'm in agreement with Rachel, and would like to add that goelocation as a very important part of the iPads in the museum experience.- Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011
  • Tablets and seniors and/or handicapped people. - harald.kraemer harald.kraemer Aug 31, 2011
  • Yes, to reiterate Harald's point: tablet computers have made the Internet and computing more accessible for lower-income people and those who don't think of themselves as "computer-savvy" people. - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011
  • I would like to see the issue of tablet computers relegated to a subset of mobile computing overall; this is especially important as mobile phones increasingly have new form factors and museums continue to be challenged to cost-effectively and cost-beneficially adopt analogous (I am careful not to say identical) content to various mobile platforms. - len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

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  • Perhaps the end of audio tours as we know them. We are seeing more and more iPads in the galleries that replace the old hardware. In addition, there are now several platforms that act as kiosks to secure public use of iPad based interactives permanently located in the gallery. - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 20, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011 Just as the smartphone is now a ubiquitous sight in most populations planet-wide, so too will the hybridization of devices that employ haptics, gesture, geolocation, voice recognition, RF- or motion-generated power, cloud computing, and many other emerging technologies become the generally accessible medium in which most of us will live our lives. The preparation that museums and schools need to be addressing is the emerging cyber-student or visitor and their needs and expectations as they enter educational institutions.
  • Docents armed with tablets can become more confident teachers as they have the internet at their fingertips, may show videos, and play music on their tours. - rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • People can engage with the exhibits in a more personal, interactive way. Suddenly you feel like you ARE able to touch the art. Also, as more apps of exhibits are launched, people have the ability to interact with whatever art they like, no matter where they are, which is extremely exciting.- Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011
  • Tablets will allow to give multimedia content to elderly people in a way, they like it: with a senior-friendly interface design and informations for their age. Last one means that they have a knowledge about things young people haven't. Like young people the seniors are a growing target audience with specific requirements. And tablets will be their favorite communication medium. - harald.kraemer harald.kraemer Aug 31, 2011
  • Alluded to but not specifically mentioned is the ability to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, from content description and interpretation to wayfinding and communication with museum staff or others in a personal group. - len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011

  • - lynda.kelly lynda.kelly Aug 31, 2011 this trend + mobile computing will transform the ways people learn and therefore engage with content in the future. Constructivist learning is back!

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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  • We have launched an iPad/iphone app that vies for attention amongst the hundred of other museum apps on Appstore - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 20, 2011
  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Aug 30, 2011 The London Natural History Museum has an interesting looking interactive movie presented on tablets. It allows gesture-based manipulation, and also features AR. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2010/november/museum-brings-extinct-creatures-to-life-before-your-eyes90697.html
  • This project uses an ipad as the controlling device to create an interactive digital installation, inspired by a museum exhibition and created in collaboration with Karsten Schmidt
    http://vimeo.com/25074067 - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Aug 30, 2011
  • The MIA project that Scott Sayre and Kris Wetterlund presented about at the MIDEA iPad meeting. - scott.sayre scott.sayre Sep 1, 2011 See Isaacson, A., McQuire, S,, Sayre, S. & Wetterlund, K. (2011) Enhancing Group Tours with the iPad: A Case Study, In Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy, The AAM Press
  • Many MIDEA museums are experimenting with the iPad.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • I am currently managing a tablet gallery guide which is simply an electronic version of a paper based "list of works in this room." I am leaning towwards using the Samsung tablet (mainly because they may fund it) but HK people seem to prefer the A5 size to the iPad. What is making me ponder most about this part of the project is that there is nothing new about the tablet. I may pulled back on this unless I can figure out a way to make the delivery device a part of the experience. If not - might as well use a 3 ring binder. - robert.trio robert.trio Aug 30, 2011
  • - scott.sayre scott.sayre Sep 1, 2011The Art Institute of Chicago is currently developing a large-scale tablet program called Gallery Connections where iPads will be be installed as interactive multimedia labels throughout their galleries. The project includes the development of a browser-based authoring tool where curatorial and education staff can add to and update the program content.
  • - scott.sayre scott.sayre Sep 1, 2011A new set of iPad compatible, gesture-based templates are currently in development for Pachyderm 3.0, which will be released in the Fall of 2011.