5 Reasons the iPad may be Bad for Ergonomics

iPad Touch Screen Tablet PCErgonomics is the science of aligning workplace products with the human body's natural curves and rhythms. Bad ergonomics happens when a product, such as a chair or computer equipment causes strain in the body due to poor alignment - it could cause back pain, neck strain, eye strain, carpal tunnel, and other kinds of repetitive stress injuries (RSI). An RSI injury develops over time and is caused by the repetitive use of a product that is not aligned with the body's natural posture.

Computer products and peripherals are typically targeted as causing RSI due to the fact that their repetitive use at an unnatural posture causes the human body's muscles to strain and stress. With each new advance in technology, people are left wondering if newer products will be healthy for them to use or cause aches and pains.

The iPad was released by Apple Inc on April 3rd 2010 and on the first day sold over 300,000 units. That goes to show it'll be immensely popular, but what's the ergonomic cost of using this device? Retailing at $499 a piece, is it ergonomic friendly or an RSI disaster waiting to happen?

The iPad Weighs too Much for a Hand-held Device

The iPad weighs in at 1.5 pounds (0.68kg) with Wi-Fi. The 3G model weighs approximately 0.1 pounds more. Compare that to the weight of Amazon's Kindle e-reader at just 0.63 pounds (0.29kg) and the difference is plenty. Just holding this thing by hand for extended periods of time (such as while watching a movie on it) could cause quite a bit of arm and hand strain. Apple's solution is to purchase the iPad dock which will set consumers back another $29.

The iPad is Not Easily Portable

The iPad's height is almost 10 inches; width is 7.5 inches approximately, with a depth of half an inch. It's bigger than the iPod touch, smaller than an iMac (Apple's laptop line), and has a screen size smaller than most typical laptops and even netbooks. With those dimensions it's awkward to hold comfortably for any length of time. Unlike the iPhone, it's too big to fit in your pocket so portability is compromised. But again Apple has a costly solution in the form of the iPad Case which is a soft foldable microfiber case retailing at $39.

The Viewing Angle for the iPad Screen is Awkward

All the iPad ads on TV show a person using the iPad while sitting down. Ever wonder the reason for this? The ads show models (including Steve Jobs) using it while sitting with their legs crossed or with the user's knees up supporting the device. Al these viewing angles require the user to hold the iPad in their hand while working on it which is just bad ergonomics. If it's positioned flat in the lap, it causes a 90 degree downward gaze, which is going to cause neck and eye strain. If it's held up at any angle it might strain the arm and shoulders. Sure people can buy the iPad dock but wasn't the whole coolness factor of having an iPad to be able to use it on the go as an e-book-reading, web-surfing, movie-watching device?

The iPad Induces Bad Posture

Laying the iPad flat on a surface and bending the back to use it is bad for the spine and could cause back pain. Propping the iPad on the knees means tilting the upper body backward; a posture that may cause eye and neck strain. There is yet to be consensus on a comfortable posture for working with the iPad.

The Tablet PC's Touch-Screen Typing is Not Ergonimically Sound

The iPad is a touch screen tablet PC. According to wikitionary.com, a tablet PC is "a portable computer that uses an integral combination flat panel display screen / graphics tablet or touch screen/graphics tablet for primary input and primary display, the size of a notebook computer."

This means that a tablet PC is optimized for using a stylus (a computer pen) and moving objects around with a finger instead of with a mouse as in traditional computers or with a touchpad as in laptops.

The problem with the iPad touch screen interface is that it's difficult for most people to type standing up or crouched at a 90 degree angle. It's also difficult and strenuous to use the touch screen with one hand while holding the iPad in the other hand. Apple does offer, once again at an added cost of $69, an iPad keyboard dock.

The decision to buy Apple products is often an emotional one for most consumers. Before heading out to buy the iPad however, it would be a good idea to do a few test runs in the shop to see how best to use it without straining the body. Alternatively be prepared to shell out an extra $150 or so for related accessories that help reduce ergonomic stress.

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