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iPad users 'risk shoulder pain', say US gov, Microsoft boffins

Too much time fondling your slab will leave you stiff

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Boffins employed by the US Department of Environmental Health and Microsoft (among others) say that users of tablet computing devices – an area almost completely dominated at the moment by Apple's iPad, selling in unbelievable numbers – run a more serious risk of "neck and shoulder discomfort" compared to people using normal desktop kit.

The news comes in a just-published study into the posture of slab-fondlers carrying out typical tasks using slablet devices. Some 15 "experienced tablet users" indulged in "simple computer tasks such as Internet browsing and reading, game playing, email reading and responding, and movie watching", while having the various angles to which they were contorting their bodies measured by an infrared recording system. The machines used were iPad 2s, with some Motorola Xooms thrown in as representative of the various other multimedia tablet makes and their unimpressive market share. Both types of slab were fitted with adjustable case/stands of the sort commonly used by fondlers.

The end result?

"Compared to typical desktop computing scenarios, the use of media tablet computers is associated with high head and neck flexion postures, and there may be more of a concern for the development of neck and shoulder discomfort," says lead investigator Jack T Dennerlein PhD of the US Department of Environmental Health, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

This is because, even with a case that can be used as a stand, tablets make their users bend their necks and shoulders more: slab-fondlers must hunch over to view their devices' screens more than is the case with a desktop system or even - according to the study - a laptop. The only time when a tablet let its user relax as much as a normal computer was when it was standing on edge in its case being used to watch movies, much as with a normal notebook.

According to Dennerlein and his colleagues on the study - who include Microsoft ergonomics engineer Dan Odell - tablet computers will basically need to become normal computers for serious prolonged use. A statement accompanying the research says:

Tablet users should place the tablet higher, on a table rather than a lap, to avoid low gaze angles, and use a case that provides steeper viewing angles. However, steeper angles may be detrimental for continuous input with the hands.

So what you really need is some kind of brilliant tablet with a built in case/stand that has a keyboard in it to avoid the input problem - or maybe, hey, an even better stand that gets the display up off the desk/table and some sort of separate input gadget!

The research can be read in PDF here courtesy of the journal Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation. ®

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