I have written often about tablet computers. I believe these small devices will revolutionize the use of personal computers. For roughly 30 years, we have thought of personal computers as devices that have a keyboard, a display screen, and (more recently) a mouse. We also assume we always use them while seated at a desk or table or perhaps while holding them in our laps. However, the design and use of computers is now changing rapidly. These changes will have long-term implications for genealogy software as well as almost every other imaginable software product.
According to a new survey by the Online Publishers Association (OPA), one third of all Internet users in the U.S. now own tablet computers. That statistic includes both complete computers as well as specialized e-book "readers." What amazes me is the growth of these portable devices: a year ago the tablet owners only accounted for 12 percent of the Internet users. That percentage has nearly tripled in 12 months. The OPA also projects that approximately 47 per cent of U.S. Internet users will own tablets by the summer of 2013.
OPA also found that tablets are becoming a part of many users' everyday lives, with 60 percent of tablet owners saying they use their device several times a day, and another 14 percent noting they use it at least once a day. Tablet users spend an average of 14 hours per week on their device.
I believe this is going to have a huge impact on genealogy software producers as their customers are now demanding portable access to information, wherever they are. Traditionally, a research trip meant going to a library or archive, gathering information in whatever means were available, then returning home and entering the data into a computer. If the new information contradicts previously-entered data, a second trip to the library or archive was often necessary. That's not too inconvenient if the library is nearby but, for many of us, a trip to a distant city may cost hundreds of dollars.
It sometimes seems as if this newsletter publishes new announcements almost every week of new products for iPad or Android tablet computers. I suspect this trend will continue and probably even accelerate.
With today's highly portable devices plus wireless networks becoming available almost everywhere (counting both wi-fi and cellular 3G and 4G networks), any information can now be compared with external sources and verified on the initial visit. The result is much more efficient research as well as reduced expenses.
To be sure, portable laptop computers have been available for years. However, these were typically 5 or 6 pound devices, not counting another one to three pounds for the required power supply/charger. To be blunt, that's heavy! Today's tablets weigh a pound, sometimes less, and the charger usually can be left at home. Most of today's tablets will operate for eight hours or more on a charge, meaning you can safely spend an entire day at the library or archive without dragging the charger along.
In my mind, the even bigger change is the availability of wireless networks. In the past, laptop users were limited to seeking information that was stored on the laptop's own hard drive. The growth of wireless networks has exploded in the past few years, with the result being "online anywhere, all the time." Most libraries now provide free wi-fi access. The few that do not are still within range of a 3G or 4G wireless connection provided by a cell phone company. The monthly service fees for cellular data connections are high at $40 to $60 a month but that is still a lot cheaper than making a return trip to a distant library or archive. Check that data NOW!
Of course, any tablet owner will tell you that genealogy is simply one of the uses for these multi-purpose devices. Most new tablet owners soon find uses that they had not dreamed of before the purchase.
In short, I believe tablet computers have a rosy future. I doubt if they will ever replace laptops entirely, but many people are finding that a low-cost tablet will suffice for many purposes. A portable, inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard also can be slipped into pocket or purse. The result is that many folks no longer have a need for laptop computers. An inexpensive tablet with a 7-inch or 10-inch screen and a portable keyboard will suffice for casual computing on the go. These devices are great for checking genealogy information, reading and writing e-mail, surfing the web, and other, casual uses. For heavy use of a keyboard, most people will still return to their desktop computers.
I don't believe that any one device will ever satisfy the needs of all users. Some people will still feel the need to use a desktop or a laptop computer much of the time. However, it is now obvious that more and more computer users appreciate the simplicity of a lightweight and portable device that is easily carried with them. Tablet computers are a great supplement to your primary computer.
You can read the full survey by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) at http://goo.gl/kkgVo.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others. Tweet it, share it on Google+, Facebook or on your preferred social network.
Republishing of this article in newsletters, blogs, and elsewhere is allowed and encouraged, with a few minor restrictions. Details may be found at http://goo.gl/hoHH1.
Of course, if you haven’t done so already, you should join my email newsletter mailing list to stay current on my latest articles and announcements. You can also cancel at any time within seconds.