Newspapers and magazines may find the tablet a saving grace with older readers.
They have an easier time reading text on tablet computers than print on paper, according to a new study by German researchers -- which may speed adoption by older consumers who enjoy daily news reads, provided that consumer electronics marketers can alter habits.
Researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany studied the amount of cognitive effort required to read text displayed on different media, including paper, e-readers and
tablet computers. After dividing participants into two groups, one consisting of 36 subjects ages 21-34, the other of 21 subjects ages 60+, the researchers tracked eye movements and brain activity
with electrodes to determine how much neural power was required to read text presented in the various formats.
The older readers displayed a lower level of brain activity when reading text on an iPad tablet, the study found, and finished each page of text three to four seconds faster, on average. The researchers attributed this result to the tablet computers’ bright, backlit screens, which enhance contrast and make it easier to distinguish text.
Younger readers showed no appreciable differences in the amount of time or mental effort required to read a page of
text, regardless of format.
In November, a study published by researchers at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School found that tablets could help people with moderate vision loss read. The study tracked the reading speeds of 100 subjects with moderate central vision impairment when using iPads and Kindle tablets, versus print. Subjects reading text in 18-point font on the iPad gained at least 42 words per minute in their average reading speed compared to print, while subjects reading the same size text on a Kindle gained an average of 12 words per minute compared to their print reading speed.
Patients with the worst vision (which the study defined as 20/40 or worse in both eyes) showed the greatest improvements when reading on tablet devices instead of print text. People with the worst vision loss also said the iPad provided the most comfortable reading experience.
According to data released by Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, in August 2012 27% of American adults ages 50-64 and 13% of adults ages 65+ owned a tablet computer. Those figures were up from 15% and 7%, respectively, in January 2012, and just 4% and 2%, respectively, in November 2010.