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Tablet PC Ergonomics
By Chris De Herrera

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A major factor in a company or a user’s decision to purchase a Tablet PC is the ergonomics and features they offer. This article will explore some of the issues that might escape your eye when you look at using Tablet PCs.

Displays – Best Viewed in Portrait or Landscape but not Both

Microsoft offers the ability for hardware manufacturers to use a technology called ClearType to improve the readability of the LCD displays that Tablet PCs use. ClearType depends on the orientation of the red, green and blue dots that make up each pixel to enhance the display. The orientation has to be parallel to each other horizontally to make the display clearer. So if you look at an LCD display with the screen cut for landscape viewing (the default for all Notebook PCs) and it is ideal with ClearType, it will not look as good in portrait mode. I think all OEMs need to tell users what orientation they recommend users to utilize to take advantage of ClearType for their Tablet PCs. Also, OEMs should turn off ClearType in orientations where the LCD display cannot take advantage of it.

Stereo Sound –A Key to Multimedia

As part of your expectations about a Tablet PC is that it will have stereo speakers to playback audio. Some vendors do not offer stereo speakers and others offer speakers that only work in certain orientations. So far all convertible Tablet PCs have their speakers covered when they are operating in Tablet mode. Even on the slate Tablet PCs, the vendors have chosen to focus on portrait mode use of the Tablet with the speakers. However the speaker placement is really for only one of 2 modes for portrait listening. I would to see speaker orientation so that the sound would be in stereo for either portrait or landscape presentations.

Buttons – Quick Access When You Can Get to Them

So far OEMs have chosen to put their buttons on their Tablet PCs so they are easy for right handed users to press them while they are using Portrait mode. Most users are using their Tablet PCs by holding them in their left hand and writing with their right hand.  Of course for left handed people they are doing the reverse.  I really think that OEMs need to re-think the placement of their buttons to allow both right and left handed users to easily use the buttons with one hand. I realize that users can rotate the screen to help with this situation however OEMs have to design icons for the buttons that can be understood in 90, 180 270 and 360 degree orientations. So far I have not seen buttons that do this well.

Tying it All Together

Overall I believe that the integration of ClearType, speaker placement and button placement need to allow users to have the best experience. Further users need to understand that having the ability to rotate the screen does not mean that they will have the same great visual and audio experience as the preferred orientation that the vendor implemented.

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