All the ergonomic evils of the laptop are present in spades in this fashionable new gadget: stressful non-neutral neck postures (end of range neck flexion) while looking down at the screen, repetitive foward reaching of the shoulder (shoulder flexion) to access the touch screen and a rotated forearm (pronation).
Use this device too long, and believe me you will be feeling it!
In this respect, I do indeed agree with the comments made in “Will Touchscreen Technology Eliminate Ergonomic Risk in Computing and Gaming” by Cyndi Davies of “The ErgoLab.”
It’s already stated to become a phenomenon. Rich Tehrani in his technology blog has referred to what he calls “iPad Neck” as a direct result of looking down onto the device over many hours.
But…my hope for the iPad is that it is not designed to be a replacement for your desktop computer. Rather it is designed to be a recreational computer. The iPad is not being marketed to sit on you desk at work while you tap away over your spreadsheets and documents for 8 hours a day. It is designed for use at home on the couch between TV ads, or in your local Cafe as you drink your morning coffee. Short and sweet engagement with the device means minimal ergonomic issues, as you are not using it long enough for poor or repetitive postures to compromise blood circulation to muscles, ligaments, discs or nerves in a significant way.
Now, I am not suggesting the iPad is going to be good for your musculoskeletal health. And if you are carrying significant musculoskeletal conditions, particularly cervical or shoulder conditions you may find even minimal use aggravating. But if used for brief periods of time i.e. less than 20 minutes at a time, this device is not all bad ergonomically.
The lightweight and compact design of this device, as well as its ‘direct access’ format i.e. touchscreen, means that it can be operated in non-sitting postures. I believe this to be a significant advantage which should not be overlooked when assessing the iPad. Physiological research has reliably shown that intradisc pressures in the lumbar spine are significantly less in lying or with an open hip angle (135 degrees). Additionally, considering many of us sit for long periods during the workday, resulting in significant fatigue in the postural muscles in the spine, hips and abdomen, an alternation to computer operation in a lying or even semi-reclined posture allows some much needed rest and respite for these muscle groups.