There’s a subtle user-interaction issue related to the iPad that I haven’t heard anyone talk about yet—I believe the “pad” blows away the “clamshell” in meeting environments because it changes the social dynamic. In fact, it returns us to a more “human” interactive framework.
How many times a day are you in a meeting where the group sits down at some small table, opens their laptop computers (on the tiny table) and suddenly you are looking across the tops of the displays (walls of displays!) at the other people around the table? (Um, just think coffeeshop for instance, with several people crowded around a small table and the table filled with laptop computers, not coffee cups.) What do you notice about how the eyes are fixated on screens, and the people aren’t looking at each other over the tops of the screens. Is there more time spent looking at screens, or more time spent looking at each other?
When I was a kid sharing legos, or other building blocks, we would sometimes build walls around our respective play-areas, like people building fences around their property. We defended our property by building these walls.
The physical wall of flipped-up computer screens creates an artificial and dysfunctional social distance among and between members of the group.
The tabletPC and the “pad” could substantially change that dynamic! Much as if you were using a pencil and yellow pad, lying down out of your sightline on the surface of the table, the digital pad sits unobtrusively on the table, where you can look down when you need to, and take notes, and otherwise look up at the meeting participants and the whiteboard or screen.
The social distance created by a laptop with its flipped-up display has allowed you to check email and do other “secret” things stealthily and out of sight of the other meeting participants. The pad won’t allow that to the same degree! If you’re typing email, or doodling, or watching movies on your pad, everyone can see what you’re doing. (That’s why people put their blackberries and iPhones on their laps during meetings—so you can’t see what they’re working on. The pad will make that more difficult.)
I try, as much as possible, to use my iPhone in meetings rather than breaking out the Macbook—I find that it is less disruptive of the social interaction. And I look forward to the first meeting I’m in where the majority of people have tablets or pads instead of clamshell laptop computers!
I encourage people to be online and connected during most business meetings. And my only rule about electronic devices during meetings is they must be on the table in plain sight. You can check email if you want to, but I want to understand that this is what you’re doing so we can mutually adjust the meeting to be of more immediate interest to everyone! The pad will provide a greater degree of transparency in terms of letting meeting participants know what you’re doing.
 Well, if you’re just a bit younger than me you used Legos—I actually am old enough that I had pressed-wood bricks called American Bricks, that had pegs and worked just like Lego bricks do, but plastic hadn’t yet come into its own.