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Captain Picard Doesn’t Have an iPad

It should be of no surprise to any of you that I am a huge Trekkie. You are probably also aware that I am a total MacAddict. What better binding of bailiwicks than to blather about both?

Star Trek has been at various times credited with inspiring a number of modern gadgets, including the mobile phone (TOS communicator), the PDA and/or tablet (TNG PADD), and touch interfaces (TNG LCARS). The truth of that seems to be a form of loose inspiration (as is often the feedback between science fiction and technology). I’m going to focus in particular on the tablet iPad as compared to the PADD, because I think TNG missed on this in several key ways.

Depending on the specific “model”, a PADD might have:

  • A stylus
  • Separate touch/display areas
  • Various sizes of bezel/case
  • Different colors which indicate dedicated function

Steve Jobs famously said “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”, but a lot of these design choices come out of the realities of prop design – they needed to convey “futuristic” and “alien” in instant, simple, visual ways, and were not trying to build usable devices. Similarly, at the time of filming, they couldn’t embed live video into such a thin device, because the technology didn’t exist yet, so they either had backlit images or had to implement it in post-production with special effects.

Additionally, you’ll often see characters using PADDs in ways people don’t generally use iPads:

  • Handing a PADD to another person to give them a document (various main characters)
  • Having something “signed” by an officer (numerous nameless ensigns)
  • Using multiple PADDs in a disorganized pile (Jake Sisko)

I think for the most part this is due to the writers not having any conception of an always-on network. This is pretty understandable, given that the Web didn’t arrive for non-academics until the middle of Deep Space Nine’s run, and widespread WiFi and mobile data weren’t around until almost the end of Enterprise’s run (EDGE was just getting started in 2003, and Enterprise was cancelled in 2005). The idea of something like iCloud, where the current state of all of your documents is nearly instantly available on all of your devices, was apparently too impossible for science fiction. They didn’t even seem to have a concept of email or file transfer!

Also, I think that for most adults both mobile phones and tablets are 1:1 devices – you are the only user of the device, and you have only one of them. There may be brief cases of lending, and there are certainly plenty of people who have separate work and personal phones, but I believe these are the exception. Children, of course, make heavy use of the devices of parental units until they are old enough to have their own. As such, you wouldn’t hand your device off to someone else indefinitely for their use – you’d transfer state digitally. You also wouldn’t keep different files on different devices. In this way PADDs were more like futuristic notebooks or clipboards, not computers.

I’ve been using an iPad for almost two years, and even though I never got around to reviewing it, my uses have definitely differed from my predictions. I even named mine “PADD” (partially in keeping with my theme of naming Macs after Star Trek animals). I checked out the Retina Display today at an Apple Store – it really is astounding, in some ways more so that the iPhone 4/4S. In spite of all of the improvements, especially the screen, I don’t feel the need to upgrade from my original 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad to “the new iPad“. However, if mine turns out to be unable to support iOS 6, that would be a significant motivation for me to shift.

I like to joke about how using it means I’m living in the future, even a Star Trek future, but in many ways, what we have is better than what Star Trek imagined. I believe that Captain Picard would have been much happier annotating treaties, reading Shakespeare, and writing condolence letters for dead security officers… on an iPad.

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Posted in Computers

Is the iPad for me?

What’s the question?

Like every other critic and salivating fanboy, I feel compelled to chime in on yesterday’s religious experience in which The Steve descended from on high bearing a tablet. However, this is not a review, but merely a (lengthy) answer to a simple question: is the iPad for me? I won’t be talking about the market for digital content distribution, I won’t be whining about what software and hardware widgets weren’t included, I’m not going to rant about Apple’s closed ecosystem, I won’t be begging to lick someone’s boots for a chance just to touch one. Additionally, although hopefully this is obvious, this is heavy on speculation, since I have yet to actually hold the product, let alone use it for any length of time.

I’ll also take this opportunity to brag that I got 29.5 points on the prediction score card, with only one question as yet unanswered: will textbooks be available (I said yes, and I think this is eventually likely, based on the list of publishers involved). I was briefly unsure if my existing Apple Wireless Keyboard would be supported, but the Design page indicates that in will be, in spite of the existence of the iPad Dock. I got the name right, and most of the detailed features based on the rumorsphere. The substantive places I was wrong were the absence of a camera, the price point (cheaper than I expected), and the lack of any information on iPhone OS 4. I had a hope for an open development environment, but I knew that wasn’t going to be true, so that’s more a self-docking principle point. I failed to predict the dock, and I gave myself a half-point for saying no 3G when there are models both with and without.

Below the cut I’ll start off with a brief history of my personal electronics habits from college through today, and then consider where the iPad would fit into my little niche… and, if it does fit, whether it’s worth it. I’ll also look at what still-open questions about the device would affect my potential buying decision (not the least of which is that I need to try it out in an Apple Store to get a sense of the ergonomics). While I’m only speaking for myself, maybe my analysis will be useful to people similar to me.

(more…)

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Posted in Computers, Opinion

Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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