Why isn’t the tablet a multi-user device?

Why is it that the tablet – rapidly establishing its position as the fourth screen in the home – isn’t a family friendly, multi-user device? I understand that it’s a personal screen, but it’s not a personal device.

At first I was as enthusiastic as the next person about the potential afforded by the glossy tablet interface. As an early iPhone adopter and latterly an Android convert, I could see how the increased screen real estate would lend itself to activities I still associated with my laptop – an increasingly clunky device that evolution has rendered largely immobile.

Size, heat and proximity to a power socket mean that the laptop is more nomadic than truly portable. But a smartphone is better suited to more passive interaction with apps and services – an observation which allowed the first crumbs of scepticism to creep in about the suitability of a tablet.

My interaction with the internet these days is an activity peppered with the requirement to rattle off login details for the various online venues I frequent – something the virtual keyboard of a tablet does not lend itself well to. But, of course, that’s where the beauty of the app-based interface comes in – it’s all personalised. Except it has one major downside.

I got an Android tablet for my partner, who needed something more portable than a laptop that also packed the communication functionality of a phone. There’s little point in us having any more than one tablet around the house, and I don’t know many households that are in position of being able to outfit every resident with a tablet, never mind buy several thousand pounds worth of iPads.

As it is, I use the tablet more than my partner does – it’s a moveable screen that appears in any room in the house. We share it as an object, but the device is very much hers. The email app pulls down her email, the Facebook app is logged into her account, the address book is full of her friends and when I hand the device back, the browsing history (again tied to her web account) is full of web pages I have looked at. It infringes the right to privacy for both of us, and is also frustrating to use. It’s a bit like borrowing someone else’s car – it just feels wrong to drive, yet the cost doesn’t allow for another hardware purchase, and it would seem somewhat redundant to have a couple of such devices just laying around.

There’s an opportunity here. And no company is better placed to exploit it than Microsoft. The Redmond firm has really only got its act together on the smartphone and tablet OS front since Windows 7.5 and the introduction of the tiled, Metro-based user interface. What’s important in this case though is the often unsung concept of multiple user accounts inherent to any Microsoft operating system.

Windows 8 is designed to be the first cross platform operating system, encompassing all device types from desktop PCs to tablets and smartphones with user identities tied to a Windows Live account. Now if Microsoft uses its expertise in multiple user accounts in the PC domain, what’s to stop it leveraging that functionality across all those same devices? Properly done, this could pave the way for a proper ‘family’ tablet that can be shared around the house while maintaining personalisation options for each user. Yes, four screens are better than one, but not necessarily for each and every user.



  1. Avatar Mark Jefford-Baker 15/02/2012 @ 2:31 pm

    Good point. I got hold of an Ipad early to pass it round at work so that people could try the UX, and got tired of resetting the thing. The idea of the family’s accounts across phone and tablet (as well as PC and XBOX) is rather appealing.

  2. Avatar Mike Hibberd 15/02/2012 @ 2:33 pm

    Guess it’s not so appealing to the hardware vendors though…

  3. Avatar Benny Har-Even 15/02/2012 @ 6:21 pm

    A great idea. Apple could make an app for that of course, but it won’t as it would rather we have one each, thankyouverymuch. There is a Jailbreak app that will do it, a man in a pub once told me, not the we could condone such eyepatch wearing behaviour. There’s an Android app called SwitchMe that will do it, but I believe you have to root the device first. Native support would of course be preferable.

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