The tablet PC is a fascinating creature. The flat multi-touch surface provides a great opportunity to make the PC natural, intuitive and to some extent tangible. It will empower artists and narrow the gap between impression and expression, between thought and creation.
The most amazing fact of the tablet, however, is the time it has taken the industry to realize it in a quasi-interesting form.
I’ve always felt that the mouse and keyboard was, although great for many tasks, utter limiting for other tasks of a more creative nature.
For audio and music the tablet provides a cool multi-touch interface that shortens the cognitive path between idea and output, it enables one to make changes faster and more real-time. Special-purpose multi-touch tablets are starting to appear for audio synthesis and sequencing purposes. It just makes sense.
In the realm of graphics, in particular 3-dimensional graphics, I’ve always felt that mouse and keyboard simply isn’t the right medium. Surely we can do better. Multi-touch is a great next step. An accellerometer and compas equipped tablet could be used as a physical camera into a virtual world. Moving the tablet around shows the scene. One could imagine setting up virtual cameras this way by moving the tablet around and then pinning virtual manifestations of it to whereever.
There are several annoying limitations of mainstream technology though; primarily, I think these:
- Thickness: they are getting there, but they are still a little bulky
- Weight: they are not as light-weight as one could hope for, making prolonged use somewhat tiresome
- Flex: they are rigid, unlike say, a newspaper, which is an inconvenience as reading is one of the nice applications of tablets; there are research prototypes for flexible electronic paper, however
- Pressure: they are not pressure sensitive beyond 1-bit binary sensitivity: touch or no touch; for audio and music, a pressure sensitive touch surface is important; likewise for 3-dimensional graphics pressure senitivity would allow artists and industrial designers finer control in modelling scenarios, where virtual matter is shaped like clay
- Tactile: they do not provide much tactile feedback beyond flat touch; Microsoft Research has some prototypes for devices that attach directly to the body; one could potentially conceive of a system that provides nervous system feedback, tricking the brain into thinking there is a landscape in mid-air; at some point, we may want to skip the tablet altogether and just use this virtual tactile feedback combined with stereo-projected images on variable-transparency glasses; this will also make augmented reality almost transparent; well, beyond computational contact-lenses and “wet-ware” cybernetics.
The space of potential applications, however, is awesome. At least with the hardware we’ll hopefully see with the next 10 years and beyond. Not so long ago, Microsoft provided a series of concept videos – Future Visions – which show-cased where Microsoft thinks the future is. Suffice it to say: the future is bright.
For now, I’m happy to have bought a device that brings us a couple of steps closer to this dream: The Apple iPad.
So far my experience is that it’s a great device and has muted the need for my laptop PC which is now idle. The iPad is a great social networking tool with applications providing specialized user experiences fit for the iPad form factor and surface.
Location awareness is also an awesome feature which is sure to come in very handy.
Music is remote-controlled from the living room, with control signals sent to iTunes on the main PC, sending music streaming through a TOSLink optical cable and into the stereo. A bit of a bulky remote (in the absence of an iPhone), but cool nonetheless.
The things that annoy me about it is that there doesn’t appear to be a way to organize applications into folders on the desktop surface and when in the App Store, when buying an application you will leave the store and go to the desktop which is not so nice when “power shopping” (free apps or not).
There’s a lot to love about this little gem of a device though!
This is my second Apple product. The first one was the Apple Wireless Keyboard. Not because I have anything against Apple (well actually, their closed-world policy, with respect to programming languages and in general is… vexing), but mostly due to the price tag on many of their products.
I see Microsoft making headway with the pretty cool Windows Phone 7 OS with its Silverlight UX and for the sake of consumer wallets everywhere, and industry progress, I hope Microsoft will also (re-) enter this market. Witnessing Windows Phone 7, the software for this hypothetical tablet ought to be great but witnessing some of the phone hardware provided by 3rd parties, optimism dims a little. The finish of an Apple product is hard to beat.