When we think about ‘lifelogging’, more often than not the gadgets envisioned as the tracking instruments take the form of a wearable device – such as a wrist, arm, or even a head band. The next plausible device to don the garb of a tracking device would be a smartphone.
But tracking with an iPad? That’s pushing things a little too far, right?
That’s the major problem with an iPad – it exists in a fragile middle ground where it might be portable to some extent (definitely more so than a laptop or a desktop), but it still doesn’t reach the portability (and ergo, some of the use cases) associated with a smaller mobile device, such as an iPhone.
Does that mean iPad owners would have to rely on other devices for lifelogging? Maybe not.
BACK TO THE BASICS: BUILDING BLOCKS
Let’s go back to the ABCs of lifelogging for some time. The most basic aspect of lifelogging involves the usage of sensors, and the data gleaned is in turn translated into graphs and insightful information.
With a tablet device, all the building blocks are attained in one way or the other: the sensors within a tablet include the accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS, and if apps are developed for tablets to tap into this data, the software and hardware would be more than capable of crunching all the numbers.
So technically, a tablet does have the capabilities in the form of sensor prowess, software and hardware to enable a lifelogger to track vital parameters. Which brings us to the next obvious question: what kind of parameters can be tracked through a tablet?
TRACKING DATA FROM AN IPAD
Now for the next part, let us assume that the user does not have any specialised wearable or tracker to lifelog with. In case the user does have a tracker, a very few devices could replace it. But to explore the possibility of lifelogging with a tablet, we have to make the most of the resources within a tablet.
Although lifelogging is certainly an intricate affair – with a myriad of sensors and a host of data to record, and then analyse the in-depth graphs generated from the data – only a small percentage of the data that needs to be recorded actually requires the usage of specialised sensors. For instance, an accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS can record parameters involving steps taken, distance travelled, places visited and even basic sleep patterns.
Taking this notion one step further: sensors are usually multi-faceted recording blocks, capable of recording more than one parameter. For instance, a simple infra-red sensing module will be capable of recording blood flow, capillary and blood pressure and even the blood oxygen levels to a certain extent. A proximity sensor can be mirrored by using the microphone and earpiece of a phone. All it takes are the right sensors, and the right mathematical algorithm.
Now that we’ve got a brief idea of the usability of sensors, let’s see which sensors are present in a tablet. We’re taking an iPad as a template, but the sensors present should be similar, if not the same, for other tablets as well.
All five variants of the iPad – the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 4 and the iPad mini 2 – feature three-axis gyro, an accelerometer and an ambient light sensor. In addition to these, the former four feature Touch ID and a barometer as well. All of them have camera modules on board, and all of them feature a motion co-processor (M9 in the case of the iPad Pro variants, M8 for the iPad Air 2 and mini 4, and M7 for the Mini 2).
So we’re looking at the usual suspects: accelerometer, gyro and a barometer in some cases. Do note, only the cellular versions support GPS. All this considered, what can be tracked then?
STEPS TAKEN + PLACES VISITED
Supposing you have a tablet in your backpack. The tablet will be able to track the number of steps taken (through the accelerometer and gyroscope) and might also be able to keep a track of the distance walked and places visited (in case it supports GPS, of course).
The recording algorithms will have to be different from that of a smartphone, since phones record steps assuming that the phone is moving steadily along with the person. The algorithm that could work would rely on the back movement, generated as a result of the arm movement while walking.
The presence of a barometer would also add the third dimension of height when it comes to recording steps taken and places visited. When combined with the data from the accelerometer and the GPS, it could indicate the altitude till which the person climbed to. The barometer would also record some basic health care applications – such as spirometry. But then again, the applications would have to be developed accordingly.
In case the tablet is held in the hand, then the algorithm will be similar to that of recording steps using a smartphone.
There are a lot of journaling apps out there which enable users to manually input data about their routines. Make use of the camera capabilities within a tablet, and you’ve actually got yourself a nifty photo-journaling tool as well.
SLEEP TRACKING? MAYBE NOT.
The dedicated alarm application in iOS 10 actually measures the quality of sleep depending on your previous sleep patterns. Most people won’t be sleeping with their tablets in bed, so that rules out the use of the gyroscope as a sleep tracker.
MAKING SENSE OF THE DATA
Again, let’s go back to the building blocks of lifelogging. Sometimes, you just need a bigger screen to make sense of all the data that has been recorded. Most recording services make use of an internet aggregator to generate graphs and store it on a personalized dashboard for the user. In this case, viewing the data on the go can be made all the more easier using a tablet.
CAN A TABLET REPLACE YOUR LIFELOGGING DEVICE?
It can be used really partially. The main purpose of a lifelogging device is to be unobtrusive and record data without interfering with the user’s activities, and in this regard the tablet is quite possibly the last device that could be used for lifelogging.
However, that being said, it can provide a minimal form of backup when it comes to tracking steps. Mostly, it can come into use for journaling and maintaining a diary on the go. But I believe that the biggest advantage of a tablet when it comes to lifelogging is mainly to view the data and interact with the graphs. You’re getting a large touchscreen, and sometimes this is better than viewing the graphs on a smartphone or a laptop.