We’ve all heard the rumors: Apple is going to be releasing some kind of touchscreen tablet computer, either in September or 1st quarter 2010 (depending upon the source). It could be a fully functioning computer, like a MacBook with a touchscreen, or an extra-large iPod Touch/iPhone. What I do know is that for a geek like me, another little piece of sci-fi futurism from my youth is about to hit the market, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The big source of my excitement is due to having been a huge Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. TNG was a great update to the franchise, but in many ways, the technology presented on the show was not that significantly updated from the original series. They had warp drive, transporters and phasers. Maybe they added “Mark IV” to a few things to tell us they were newer, better versions of what we’d seen on the old series, but all-in-all it was the same stuff.
Except for the computers. Probably the coolest bit of futurism built into TNG’s set design was the context-based touch-screen control system, called LCARS (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System), created by technical consultant Michael Okuda. And while watching Data’s fingers dance over the class consoles on the bridge was cool, even better was when they used LCARS on a PADD (Personal Access Data Device).
The PADD, designed by Rick Sternbach, was the logical extension of the LCARS system and the ship’s computer to a portable hand-held device with it’s own touch screen. In many ways, using an iPhone, or iPod Touch gives one a similar feeling to what we saw characters doing with PADDs — tapping and swiping with our fingers on a glass display, doing calculations and viewing information. So just imagine that same experience on an iPhone about three times the size. It will be magic!
Obviously there have been many other touchscreen computers in science fiction, but the PADD is the one that sticks in my mind. And if Apple does what I’m hoping they’ll do, I’m going to be one happy geek.