The trouble with tablet technology is not necessarily the functionality or usability of the tablet computer in itself, but rather what we, the users, want it to and think it should be. Is a tablet computer a fully functional device touchscreen minus the keyboard, or is it something else that we cannot quite conceptualize, and only discover through experimentation. No one can deny what the iPad has done for augmentative communication, and tablet computing in general, but is that it? Can no more be done in the area of touch-screen augmentative computing? And, more importantly, is the iPad all that it can be?
Knowing full well that I risk alienating a wide range of colleagues and professionals who are deeply vested in the use of iOS devices, I must attach the following disclaimer: the iOS development environment and its associated form-factors are fantastic AAC outlets in their own right. The nearly universal adoption of the iPad as an acceptable augmentative communication device upon its release most certainly demonstrates the benefits that it offers. We have heard a lot of praise in relation to the iOS devices out there, but what remains to be addressed are some of the alternatives.
In my ventures of advocacy in the realm of augmentative communication, I have found many individuals and organizations to be entirely clueless to the basic and more advanced alternatives to the iPad. Chalk it up to an incredibly successful marketing campaign, a number of foolproof AAC software applications, and a shiny capacitive touchscreen, and you’ve got an instantaneously ubiquitous device. As an augmentative communication solution, the iPad is in fact so ubiqituous that many individuals may see it as the only solution in existence.
As a software developer, I feel that it necessary to educate the world on every possible alternative out there. And for many adult users, and more high-functioning children, a more fully featured device really is more appropriate. When it comes to comprehensive, powerful, fully-featured devices, dare I say that Windows-based machines may have the upper hand? It may seem unfathomable, but the hard facts cannot be ignored. There are many reasons why I would not recommend an iPod or iPad as an augmentative communication solution for a number of individuals from various populations.
In the coming months we are going to see a slew of Windows-based tablets hit the market. Some are already out there, but popularity and adoption are low. What follows are some of my upcoming favorites:
Obviously, the Windows environment is far more complex than the iOS, which in itself is a major deterrent for its use as an augmentative communication interface. That being said, one really has to look at what you are getting when you have an augmentative communication interface that is also a fully functional Windows-based machine. Adults, and high-functioning individuals in general, may prefer to do their communication on a tablet that device that also has their email, internet, word-processing, and spreadsheet software in the same place. Let’s not forget that the true multitasking power of Windows-based devices allows you do all of those things at the same time. Essentially, what you are getting when you purchase a Windows tablet is a portable touchscreen version of your home computer. Tack on some powerful communication software and you’ve got the best AAC device around.
Let’s not forget about a legitimate physical keyboard either. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually like having some tactile feedback as I type; my touchscreen typing ability at this point is pretty laughable. I know only of Windows-based touch screen devices that offer that kind feature.
I may very well be in the minority when I say that I actually prefer other augmentative communication solutions to iOS based devices, but having worked extensively with a variety of special populations with varied communication needs, I think I have enough evidence to support my opinions at the very least. In any case, only time will tell what type of product will eventually find mass-adoption….and by that time, it will surely be outdated and quickly replaced by some new technology.
Sunday, December 12. 2010
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