The market for tablet computers is in a growth phase, or so most analysts believe. Gartner, Inc., for example, saw sales of 19.5 million units in 2010 and predicts sales of 54.8 million in 2011 and 208 million by 2014 (www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1452614). Steven Levy, writing in Wired ("Tabula Rasa: Why the New Generation of Tablet Computers Changes Everything," April 2010; www.wired.com/magazine/2010/03/ff_ tablet_levy), suggests that tablets require us to rethink how to use computers.
With convenience being one of the primary drivers of the industry, Apple's iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab, or another tablet computer was a gift that many people, perhaps even you, received during the December holiday season. During 2010, the iPad was the primary tablet on the U.S. consumer market, as Gartner, Inc. also observed. But competitors have entered, or are about to enter, the market, which will stimulate interest and sales.
Three issues concern librarians and information professionals:
1. How can tablets be used to perform research?
2. How can they affect your resource center?
3. Can they replace standard laptop and desktop computers?
To thoroughly answer these questions, I will look at where information professionals are working today, discuss how they are using their computers, and identify key elements of design that influence the development of all tablet and touchscreen computers.
It can be easy enough to discount the iPad and other tablet computers because of inherent size limitations, limited peripheral ports, and inadequate apps. However, examining what options now exist and may develop in the near future can change this "nice to have" item for some into a "must have" item for almost everyone.
THE MOBILE WORK FORCE
Today, many information professionals are working on-the-go. Whether they are moving between reference desks or resource centers in an educational institution or corporate campus, traveling to client meetings, or attending conferences, members of the information profession are very mobile. For a number of years, laptops have become standard issue for librarians, even for those in traditional stationary positions where people answer phones. For some, netbooks are now replacing laptops. Mobile phones are also an integral part of work for most librarians, and many organizations provide phones to their professional staff, directly or indirectly encouraging mobility. Apps for smartphones such as BlackBerries, iPhones, and DROIDs (currently manufactured by HTC Corp. and Motorola) continue to make it easier to handle research activities through type and text.
Add in social networking services, communication mediums that help enable knowledge sharing among info pros for business and pleasure, and it is no surprise why many in and out of the library profession affectionately refer to their BlackBerries as "CrackBerries." Most professionals really cannot do without these convenient devices. They enable everyone to work virtually in just about every place imaginable. The only limitation is internet accessibility.
CONSUMPTION VERSUS CREATION
The various ways we use computers, phones, and networking services in regard to tasks and research we perform on a daily basis also affects the mobile librarian and information professional. For example, info pros spend a great deal of time searching for data, gathering information, and retrieving content via feed readers or specific apps, as opposed to creating any authentic documentation.
Seeing a niche for tablet computers, Peter A. Khairolomour, technical marketing manager at Fairchild Semiconductor, Inc., describes these use cases as consumption versus creation in his June 4, 2010, The ECN Daily article, "Tablet Computers vs. Netbooks" (www.ecnmag.com/Articles/ 2010/06/Tablet-Computers-vs-Netbooks). He says, "For those more interested in consumption or entertainment applications as opposed to creation, the tablet is a very wellsuited device, especially for those applications where information is flowing primarily from the tablet to the user. …