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The season for new tablet releases is just around the corner, and rumors abound of new iPads and Nexus devices. Tablets are fantastic gadgets, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Here are four features that would make the next generation of tablets stand head and shoulders above their older models.
Design Reactive Controls That Fit Human Hands
Almost every tablet that has come across my desk has an operating system that isn't designed for actual human hands. Manufacturers treat tablets like small computers with touchscreens, rather than a unique kind of device—they just don't use finger space very well. Designers should realign control schemes to match the ways that real people hold their tablets, keeping the buttons and triggers within a thumb's reach. This needs to account for shifting orientations, too—when users switch from landscape to portrait the control should change. It's hard to reach the notification bar at the top of a tablet in portrait orientation, for example.
Stop Making Thinner Bodies
Lighter tablets are easier to hold, and thinner tablets are usually lighter. But we've passed the point of diminishing returns: Today's thinnest tablets dig into the crook of your hands, and they break so easily. Plenty of people opt to protect their fragile tablets with cases (a smart move), but then they get thicker anyway. So what's the point of making these things any thinner, when it just puts constraints on the hardware and cramps the user experience? The inventor of the world's thinnest tablet doesn't get a trip to Stockholm and a Nobel Prize, so why bother?
Accidents happen. While there are cases that will help you avoid the damage an errant spill can cause, most tablets are still sensitive to even a little bit of water. Humans are messy creatures! We break things, we spill our drinks, we have oily hands—if tablets are going to become more useful to us, they should at least survive us, right? Some mobile phones are already water resistant. We also saw some water-blocking technology at CES 2013 that could be applied to tablets.
Include a Case
I've destroyed a Nexus 7 and an iPad 3 (accidentally, of course). Even though insurance covered new ones, a simple case probably would have prevented the damage. Most of the major manufacturers will sell you a first-party add-on case or protector, but they're rarely all that sturdy, and they make the tablet harder to use. There are great third-party cases that cost less and actually improve the user experience by adding a hand-strap or easy way to prop it up. You don't usually see these cases in stores, though. Manufacturers should do more to offer protective casing.
Most of these features probably won't be included in the upcoming batch of tablet releases. However, the tablet market isn't done heating up, and new players are starting to enter the fold, some of which attempt to address these weak points. Time will tell what's next, but the May announcement season is not as far off as it seems.