Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.
An Apple iPad on a desk

Apple's carrying case for the iPad also acts as a handy desk stand, when flipped open.

Apple’s new IPad launched in the UK yesterday and one has happened to find it’s way into my hands pretty early in the day – in the interests of research, of course. It is a truly impressive device every bit as iconoclastic as the iPhone and possibly more so. iPhone could always be seen as a next generation smartphone delivered with Apple’s customary flair for designing what everyone else was trying to design – but didn’t.

With iPad they have come up with something no-one was even thinking about. It isn’t really like anything else and this explains some of the criticism and nay-saying there has been about it. E.g “Kindle does a better job at being a e-book reader”, “If you want to do any serious work, you’re better off with a tablet PC”, “do we really need another device alongside the desktop, the laptop rand the smartphone?”

If I were to sum up what it is, it is a personal device for using the Internet, free from the overhead and constraints of using a personal computer. It is a content consumption tool with some exceedingly convenient capabilities for interacting and responding too.

iPad is superb at displaying web pages – not in any way restricted for size, as many assume due to it’s paperback book-sized dimensions. In fact, full-size 1024 pixel wide pages are crystal clear and readable. I was relieved to see all the text on our own website and on others, like the Research Live site are legible without any zooming in required. The sound is good and rich without resorting to earphones and video is astonishing: is on a par with HDTV.

The on-screen keyboard has come in for criticism, but it really isn’t a bad way of entering text. Maybe not for writing a report but for email, entering searches, filling in forms for online shopping and the like it is entirely up to the job. It helps if you are used to the soft keyboard on iPhone as it is simply a bigger version of that. This blog entry, to prove the point, comes to you from an iPad. Did it take longer to write? Yes and no. If I had used my laptop it would have been written faster. But probably not until Monday. It is the convenience, the do-it-nowability of iPad which is it’s strength.

an Apple iPad displaying a website outdoors

iPad displays content-rich websites with astonishing clarity, given its modest screen size.

It is heavier than some might like but the metal case and glass screen actually give it resilience and a quality feel. It would make an extremely convenient tool for face-to-face interviewing. Much more portable then a tablet and not pinched for size like a PDA. A whole day’s interviewing on a single battery charge. Where a wireless network is available or cellular G3 coverage, surveys could be set up and run using any unmodified web survey tool, provided it did not use flash. I am sure we will see some extensions to existing CAPI products to provide specific support for iPad which would then allow interviewing to be done off-line too. The quality of the multimedia support means there would be no reservations or technical hangups to showing TV quality stimulus materials for ad testing, for example.

IPad will be the must-have device for 2010 I have no doubt. According to some new research from Intersperience, online consumers do see a need for getting one, and there could be 7 million of them in the UK in 5 years time. That means it is inevitable that people will be taking surveys on iPads.

All the more important then that researchers consider where and how their surveys are going to be “consumed”, and shed a few assumptions of the past. Prime among these must be to ensure the survey experience delivered to the participant does not jolt them back a couple of decades from the rich, colourful and conversational world of the Internet today to one more like an exam paper on screen. What iPad does is raise the stakes in survey design.

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