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Designing for Disposable Tablets

Tech manufacturer Datawind has announced plans to offer an internet-enabled Android tablet here in the United States for a mere $37.99. So on January 2, FastCompany asked, “What should designers do with a tablet so cheap it’s disposable?”

Our team enjoyed brainstorming the possibilities.

The short answer

Although a cheap tablet certainly opens new doors for consumers, really tight budgets often restrict home internet access, which is necessary to make a tablet worthwhile.

So as hardware prices fall, we're betting that it's brick & mortar businesses who'll find creative new ways to leverage tablets.

The long (and more fun) answer

Throwing constraints to the wind, here are some of our ideas for how businesses might enhance the experiences using tablets.

  • What about a digital grocery assistant? Mounted in your shopping cart, the tablet could give you access to shopping lists or electronic coupons you’d saved online on another platform. It could present a digital circular, alert you when your prescription is ready in the pharmacy, inform you about deals on nearby products, and enable you to quickly find particular products within the store.

  • And of course, we could all use some help when we’re digging through a deep stack of jeans looking for our own size. A virtual clothes-shopping assistant would be valuable. You could provide your body type and size range upfront, then browse suggested combinations. Once you’ve chosen an item, you could easily identify options that coordinate and quickly find them within the store. The tablet could alert you about in-store deals that relate to your selections (“Did you know necklaces are Buy 2 Get 1 Free today?”) as well as product reviews.

  • The potential educational uses are endless, even outside of the traditional classroom. Imagine nursing homes or brain injury rehabilitation facilities using tablets for memory stimulation exercises that therapists can easily track and monitor. Or museums that offer age-appropriate interactive guides (for example “Take a picture of the Ash leaf when you find it.”)

  • Of course, hotels and resorts could pair room numbers with personalized welcome messages; The wedding market would have a heyday with monogrammed room numbers.

  • But better yet, hotels could move away from the printed annual city guides and room service menus. Publishers would make a killing if they sold real-time, targeted advertising based on guest characteristics - the honeymooners in the penthouse might see an ad for the spa while the group of guys in town for the horse races see a side-by-side comparison of the town’s best pubs. And imagine controlling your room’s electronics in any easy-to-use bedside interface, or paying for all your extras via PayPal.

  • We might all feel differently about flossing it we could see our teeth through our dentist's eyes, which would be possible if a tablet was mounted above us projecting footage from a tiny camera in the dentist's glasses. In fact, imagine checking in at your dentist to receive a sterilized tablet in place of the dirty clipboard and pen. After filling out any necessary forms and submitting them, you could refresh your memory by reviewing x-rays, still photos, and notes from your last visit. Then you could flip into the entertainment section to read an article, watch a movie, or access a cute dental game to entertain your little one.

  • One can only imagine the table-tops in touristy Cancun restaurants, rotating through ad after ad (perhaps ads personalized based on who you are, once you open a tab on your credit card?) In fact, a sensor inside of a digital coaster could alert the waitstaff when your mile-high margarita was nearly empty.

  • Restaurants could use the tablets to alert patrons waiting for a table about when they can be seated, offering a preview of the menu and insight into the day’s specials - both at the restaurant and nearby. While folks wait, they may even decide to enter their email address for a chance to win that ever-elusive free lunch. And cluttered menus will be a thing of the past when the user can tap into a menu item to view suggest wine pairings.

  • The waiting use case extends pretty much anywhere - imagine how much more exciting it’d be if digital advertising, games, and public service messaging kept things fresh at the bus stop?

  • Golf courses would send tablets out so that golfers could track key stats: score, number of slices, draws, greens in regulation, puts, etc. Golfers would geek out as they compared the current day’s stats to those of their past rounds on the course, and competitive fires would be fueled when they compared their scores to those of a friends on social networks! All would appreciate detailed schematics of the course layout, since most of today’s apps are general, relying on satellite readings.

While wearable technologies continue seem to be right on the horizon, low-cost tablets are squarely within reach. We’re excited to see what the year holds.