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Rise (or tilt?) of the lean-back ‘tablet’ chair

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    The Steelcase Gesture 360 has 30 distinct positions, including a locked lean-back mode. The arms swivel out so you can show a tablet to the person next to you. (Steelcase)

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    The Steelcase Gesture 360 will sell for $979 when it debuts this fall. (Steelcase)

We live in a lean-back world.

More people are using tablets and smartphones than ever before. According to IDC, tablets and phones will finally outsell laptops this year. Walk into any meeting in corporate America and you’ll see people in lean-back positions, typing on tablets and phones.

Now, for the first time, there’s a chair that matches our preferences.

The Steelcase Gesture will sell for $979 when it debuts this fall. There are 30 distinct positions, including a locked lean-back mode. The arms swivel out so you can show a tablet to the person next to you. The chair has 45 patents based on posture research.

The company is located in the “seat” of office furniture design near Grand Rapids, Mich. -- just up the road from Herman Miller, makers of the popular Aeron chair.

Could the Gesture be a major hit? To find out, FoxNews.com tested a dark gray pre-production model for several days. We used the chair for typing at a computer keyboard and using a tablet and smartphone in a reclined position during meetings.

The first discovery: The chair has a firm seat with prominent lumbar support. When you lean, the seat and back recline in tandem. For every three degrees of back movement, the seat moves one degree. You feel secure even when you move around.

Also, the arms swivel out, and you can raise them up to about elbow height. So, when you lean back to tap on your iPad or text your co-worker down the hall, you can still support your arms. The chair is incredibly stable thanks to five spoked feet.

Bruce Smith, the director of seating design at Steelcase, says Steelcase first noticed a change in seating behavior in late 2010. There is a strong group dynamic: we are all interacting more, sharing our screens, and handing tablets off to co-workers.

“People became more productive after 2010 in a lean-back mode,” he says. Unfortunately, the task chairs of yesteryear were not keeping pace. The arms lock rigidly into one position. Some chairs let you move the arms up and down but not side to side. In one study, Steelcase found that modern office workers shift position once every three minutes.

In addition, Steelcase found people switched from productive work mode to casual mode more rapidly. This follows a known trend: people are bringing more of their own devices to work, working at home at will, and even spending more of their leisure time in the office.

All that shifting is not good for our health, says Smith, when the chair fails us. The human skeletal system prefers a straight position. But when we shift and lean, task chairs don’t provide lumbar support and don’t promote blood flow. The Gesture, he says, helps maintain your posture even if you are shifting around and from side to side.

Curiously, Herman Miller is not a fan of the tablet chair trend. Ryan Anderson, the director of future technology for the insight and exploration team at Herman Miller, told FoxNews.com there are three reasons they will skip this so-called market trend.

One, tablet users are not that stationary, he says. They tend to be mobile and not locked into a meeting room. Second, the company encourages users to dock their tablet to free their hands. And, lastly, he argues that tablet use could be a trend replaced by something else -- say, a thin paper e-book. They want a task chair to last for about 15 years or more.

“Herman Miller has led the industry in seating innovations for decades because we deeply inform our designs with research-based insights, but we do not copy others,” he says.

But maybe they should. Our testing revealed one clear advantage to the Gesture: it adjusts for how we work. The times have changed; now, so has the chair.g