When Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the first-generation iPad in March 2010, library and information professionals immediately began to imagine how the iPad--and the tablet devices that would quickly follow--could be used to support and enhance library services. While nearly all areas of academic librarianship have started to investigate ways to integrate tablets into their plans and workflows, reference and instructional services have truly embraced the transformative power of this new technology. Chapter 1 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 48, no. 8) "Rethinking Reference and Instruction with Tablets" gives a quick overview of tablets and their popularity, then considers the role that tablets are playing in the evolution of reference and instructional services in the academic library of the early twenty-first century through a summary of the contributed chapters comprising this issue of Library Technology Reports. The chapter concludes with a brief review of foundational literature and further reading on the topic of tablet computers in higher education and the academic library.
Tablets: What Are They?
As one contributor to this issue of Library Technology Reports points out, the "tablet" is a technology that has existed for over five thousand years; this publication, however, focuses on the newest generation of tablets, exemplified by Apple's iPad. A tablet computer can basically be defined as a computer that allows input on a screen by means of a finger or stylus rather than an external keyboard. The term slate may also sometimes be used to describe this type of computer, but tablet remains the most common term and has been ever since Bill Gates coined the term while debuting a Microsoft tablet computer in 2001. Although certain user groups, such as those in business, medicine, and law enforcement, adopted these earlier tablets, the devices were not widely embraced by the public until 2010, when Apple's Steve Jobs unveiled the first-generation iPad. Jason Griffey speculates that the price, operating system, and required use of a pen or stylus prevented early tablets from immediately becoming popular with general consumers. (1)
While many different tablet computers currently compete, the Apple iPad dominates this market, as well as the examples and projects highlighted within this issue. As of the second quarter of 2012, Apple held 70 percent of the tablet market, with Samsung coming in a distant second, capturing a 9.2 percent market share. (2) Amazon and Asus represented the third- and fourth-biggest Apple competitors, respectively, taking 4.8 percent and 2.8 percent of the tablet market. (3) Though library and information professionals who are considering undertaking projects that involve tablet computers should conduct research on different devices in order to determine which might be most appropriate, it is beyond the scope of this issue to delve into comparisons of hardware, operating systems, connectivity, apps, and other elements. Readers interested in a more in-depth discussion of buying choices and device management should take a look at Jason Griffey's chapter entitled, "The Rise of the Tablet" in the April 2012 issue of Library Technology Reports.
Tablet Popularity in Society and Higher Education
Tablet popularity and ownership have grown rapidly within recent years. By the end of 2010, the year that Apple's iPad 1 was announced to the public, a mere 5 percent of US adults owned a tablet computer. (4) This number doubled, to 10 percent, by the end of 2011 and nearly doubled again, to reach 19 percent, by mid-January 2012. (5) Furthermore, the percentage of US adults that owned either an e-reader or a tablet computer grew from 18 percent in December 2011 to 29 percent in January 2012. (6) While close to a third of US adults owned either an e-reader or a tablet computer by January 2012, tablet ownership growth is expected to continue, with many companies forecasting that the number of US tablet users may exceed 80 million by 2015. …