The Tablet Problem: Too Risky To Share

Tablets are great around the house for quickly checking email, reading a book, killing some time with games or watching a video. ). However, the fact they're built on the same basic structure as their smartphone siblings means they're inherently designed as personal devices. Using them communally is a massive pain.

What's The Problem?

Most of the time, your smartphone stays in your pocket. That means it's not a problem to use it to store your email, your social network credentials, or any other personal information. You're the only who has access to it. A tablet, however, often sits on a coffee table or other communal location. Even if you don't share it with a significant other, a tablet is likely to get picked up and played with by visitors. It's a public device that can contain a lot of your private data.

Even leaving privacy aside, sharing a tablet isn't easy because most apps are still built with the single-user smartphone ideal. Few apps have an option for multiple user accounts, which means you're always sharing and mixing up your data with whoever else uses the app. If you and your significant other both want to use Simplenote, you have to share the same settings and cloud storage. The same goes for reading apps like Kindle, which can only hold one user's library and bookmarks at a time.

Games can't even be shared amongst two people because you don't get multiple save files and high score tables. In short, tablets, and apps that are built for them, assume they're only being used by one person. Increasingly, that's not the case.

Unfortunately, right now fixes to the problem are half-baked at best. Multiple account switching is rumoured to be coming for Android soon, but for now, Android tablets and the iPad remain single-user devices. Photo by whity.

The Solutions That Exist Right Now

I'll be blunt: whatever method you use, you can't have a reasonable expectation of privacy on a tablet. While you can certainly use private browsing for your surfing , most other apps -- and anything else you do -- will always be accessible to anyone who picks up your tablet. It is possible to lock some your data, and if you're willing to jailbreak or root, you can create multiple user accounts, but nothing seems perfect.

Apps for Dealing with Multiple Webapp Accounts

If social networking and webapps are the only thing you share on your tablet, then it's relatively easy to set up a system where everyone gets a little privacy. On iPad, you can use an app like Our Pad or Passtouch Web Browser to create multiple user accounts and store your private web data under different profiles. This means you only have to log in once and your credentials are loaded up. When you log out of the app, you log out of the services.

I wasn't able to track down any similar options available on non-rooted Android devices (let us know if you know of any), although, as mentioned above, multiple account support is rumoured to be on its way in the next version of Jellybean.

Parental Controls and Encryption to Hide Apps and Data

If you're handing your tablet to a child, you don't want people messing with your stuff. Thankfully, parental controls are easy to set up. When you enable these, you can hide specific apps so no-one else can use them.

The other option is to lock down your data completely and set up per-app passwords. If you're jailbroken you can password protect each app. On iPads, we like Applocker for locking down apps. For Android, APP Lock does the same thing, and doesn't require rooting.

Jailbreaking Or Rooting For Multiple User Accounts

If you're willing to jailbreak your iPad or root your Android device, you can add user account switching easily.

For iPad, we've walked you through setting up the jailbreak app iUsers before. With iUsers installed, you get the same kind of native user account switching you would on Windows or Mac. Each user gets their own app data, home screen and everything else you'd expect.

For a rooted Android, we like SwitchMe. You can create multiple profiles for each user so everybody gets their own apps and data.

It all boils down to one simple fact: tablets need multiple account options. Tablets are not just large smartphones. Tablets are shared amongst family and friends. Most people can't afford to have more than one, and keeping a public device around with your private data is never a good idea.


    this isnt something ive really thoguht about... but windows8 should have multiple accounts even in RT i assume...

    anybody actually tried multiple accounts with the release preview?

      Multiple accounts in the full Win8 release preview work fine, pretty much just like in previouw Windows versions. I don't know about things like the way SkyDrive syncs (e.g., will John's SkyDrive be updated if only Jane is logged in?) but other things like People/Mail apps and the Desktop are separated nicely.

    A recent find has uncovered some code in Jellybean that suggests user switching was developed, but not fully implemented before release. I expect it to come with the next version, but of course I'm not an Android developer.

    Discussion in the linked SwitchMe article is closed so I'll mention here that SwitchMe paid version price appears to be down to $0.94 from $2.00

    Yet another reason tablets are a complete waste of money/time/space. That said, it would be pretty rude of someone to just pick up your tablet and start riffling through it. I'd certainly do my nana at anyone who did that to my laptop.

      You'd do it with your nana?

        +1 lol

    This is the main reason why I don't have a tablet. I really do want to keep up with technology and enter the market but there's nothing out there that has actually made me sit up and say "wow, that's cool". EVERY tablet I've seen is just a smartphone with a bigger screen - a gimped smartphone with a bigger screen at that because they can't make calls and often don't have 3G/4G. There's absolutely nothing a tablet can do that my smartphone can't already do.

    This is why I'm keeping an eye on Surface...particularly the Surface Pro...because it's not going to be just a big gimped smartphone. It's actually going to be running a real computer's operating system, and will be able to be used like a real computer. You'll be able to install and run real computer applications on it. You'll virtually be able to convert it into a computer with a keyboard and mouse with minimal effort. Maybe - just maybe - the Surface Pro might be the device to convince me to enter the tablet market, as long as it's reasonably priced. Like all things though I'll reserve judgement until I can actually see it.

      "It’s (Surface Pro) actually going to be running a real computer’s operating system"...

      ... really? Trolling before it is even out?

      BTW In case you missed it, there are numerous add-ons for i-Devices and Android alike, some purpose built like the Asus Transformer, but most are just Bluetooth devices that attach no problem.

        No, it was intended to be a troll. It wasn't intended to be a PC vs Mac thing or something like that. I was comparing a full-blown version of Windows with mobile operating systems like iOS and Android. When I say "real computer's operating system" that's what I meant - I meant it wasn't a mobile OS.

          It was NOT intended to be a troll. Whoops.

    i guess apple really isn't into sharing devices. i'm sure in their perfect world everyone owns their own device & consistantly upgrades.

      It'll be some DRM restriction that states an App instance bought with a given AppleID can't be used by a different AppleID.

    Makes sense, we don't really share laptops much either, do we?

    I initially jail broke my iPhone for this reason. The wife was always wanting to use my phone for this or that, when I knew she was in fact snooping. So I setup multiple accounts, she punches in my old unlock code and gets a very bland, generic and innocent iPhone.. I enter my unlock code and it's my stuff.

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