Lora's posting on how the Chimpanzee days may be limited, makes a very interesting point about the use of Tablet PCs:

People studying animals in the field are actually prime candidates for Tablet PCs. Depending on what type of survey they are doing, the probably have a set of checklists to access every few minutes, plus need to catalog photographs with those direct notes.

When I was working on the Tablet PC, even in the early days, ethnographers (people who's job is to basically study how people use different products and tools) have been clamoring for Tablets.  It was particularly interesting in that one such ethnographer at Microsoft kept pestering me over and over again since she thought it would save her a ton of time in capturing her notes and observations and the Tablet PC is the coolest thing to change how she would do her work!  This may well be true, but at the time we didn't have any Tablets to loan to her and I also thought she was completely wrong in wanting to take a tablet on a site visit or an in-depth ethnography at least any time in the near future.


Let's introspect for a moment...  If you are the proud owner of a Tablet PC, how many impromptu demonstrations have you had to give?  How many times has someone asked you what you're doing?   How often have you had to start a meeting 10 minutes late so that you could show everyone what you can do with this product?  Even if you aren't a Tablet user, think about when you had your first PDA or your first cell phone or any new product or tool what-so-ever....

The main problem with trying to interview someone about technology or observe their habits is that you can't use technology in your pursuit of finding out what's really going on with the user.  Even if you were to say spend that first 20 minutes explaining your new tablet to the user, they're going to be thinking about the technology for the rest of the session and color their desires and thoughts.  Believe me, I've seen it happen.  Product members would bring some technology either a new laptop or tablet or even a smart phone type device and somehow or another the demo would ensue.  Later on the participant would say something like “you know that device that X had would really make a big difference for me... maybe I should really consider one“.

The result has been that for all of the ethnography and site visit work that I've done, I've had to ban all forms of technology from the team members... paper and pencil for note-taking, that's it.  Seems a little backwards particularly when we're developing solutions for taking notes :-)

As for the ethnographer, I'm sure that she has a tablet now, but I'm also sure that she's not yet actively using it on site visits.  Once everyone knows what a tablet is and what it can do, then I'm sure she'll be safe in using it to observe the technology needs, use and usability of others.

All that said, I think the chimps are pretty safe if there observers are going to use tablets to track their habits and help improve their lives -- after all not too many are going to run down to the computer store and buy the latest technology.