Tablets: A Feel-Good Medium?

Our sense of touch is perhaps the most intimate of all our senses. Not only is it part of how we remain safe from excessive heat and cold, it alerts us instantaneously to wounds large and small. That way, we make take whatever action is necessary to avert further injury.

But beyond safety, touch is a major part of how we acquaint ourselves with the world around us and how we express -– and experience -– affection. Whether stroking and nuzzling with a pet, cuddling a soft toy as a child or reaching out to
caress a loved one, the ability to feel and differentiate every kind of texture and surface is elemental to being alive. And this aspect of expressing ntimacy is similarly fundamental to our relationships with those around us.

How does touch translate to our relationships with the media devices we use daily? Increasingly, they are navigated not just by pressing buttons, but by tapping and stroking screens and a host of other tactile gestures?

I’ve always felt that a product that consumers instinctively want to reach out and touch as soon as they see it is well on it’s way to success. The hurdle of desirability has been overcome. From there, it’s about user experience and utility. I
remember conducting some out-of-the-box user experience work with the Sony PSP when it was first launched and participants couldn’t wait to cradle the device in their hands -- even though it wasn’t a touchscreen device.

The same was true of similar research on the iPad when it launched. The look and -- critically -- the feel of the device made participants want to use it / touch it more.

Does a tablet that delivers a good touch-based user experience and which is pleasing on the eye have an effect on how we feel emotionally when using it? Does our elemental relationship with our sense of touch translate to a stronger
sense of well-being while using a tablet?

I’ve not seen any research on the subject from other sources to date, but an analysis of USA TouchPoints 2012.1 reveals that while interacting with a tablet, 83% of users claim to be in a good mood. (This definition is a composite of a number of positive emotions on a 17- point scale, including things like confident, happy, hopeful, etc.)

Similarly, we see that tablet users are 22% less likely to be overwhelmed than the general adult population, as well as less likely to be worried, sad or bored.

Of course, it would be stretching the point to an absurd extent to suggest that all this was down to the extent to which touch is a factor of tablet use. The contexts in which tablets are used (very often at home, with partner and children in a relaxed state, leisure-based content – be it reading an electronic magazine or watching a video) will inevitably have an effect.

But it’s a question worth asking and understanding if we are to make the most of the contextual opportunities uniquely presented by different media.

After all, it isn’t just when and via which medium one is exposed to a message that determines one’s receptiveness. Mood and emotion are important, too.

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