Apple iPad: We've reached Star Trek-nology

Apple iPad: We've reached Star Trek-nology

Summary: After 44 Years, the PADD in the guise of Apple's iPad is added to the pantheon of "Treknology" that was first envisioned in Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK.


Special Report: Apple iPad

After 44 Years, the PADD in the guise of Apple's iPad is added to the pantheon of "Treknology" that was first envisioned in Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK.

<cue Alexander Courage music> Tablets. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of Apple Computer Corporation, its never-ending mission to open brave new markets, to seek out new loyal customers and new patent infringing lawsuits, to boldy generate profit that no consumer electronics company has generated before... WHOOOOSH!

Hoooooooo-oooooh, oooooooh ooooh oooh ooohhh ooooh...

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Let's face it, those of us placing an order for an iPad tomorrow may have all kinds of excuses to justify to our spousal units for why we think we need the device, but in reality we are only doing it for one reason: We're nerds and have an obsession with wanting to be part of a living Star Trek episode.

Apple's use of Star Trek in their print, Internet and television advertising is no co-incidence.

The name "iPad" itself evokes the PADD (Personal Access Display Device) which is the term used for the gadget that was first introduced in the original series in 1966 and was coined in 1987 on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show's first TV revival.

Also Read: Advances in TREKnology (05/09)

Pervasive tablet computing, first introduced on Star Trek and seen in many other Sci-Fi TV series and movies since, has been a dream for those of us wanting a portable computer with a human-friendly touchscreen user interface.

While Apple is to be given ample credit in what will probably be the popularizing of the Slate/Tablet form factor, there have been many attempts by lots of individuals and companies to make the PADD a reality.

The first academic attempt at writing the functional specifications for the PADD was pioneered by technologist Alan Kay in 1968, and was published in a paper by Xerox Palo Alto Research Laboratories (PARC) in 1972.

This theoretical device, called the "Dynabook" was originally intended to be deployed as an educational device for "children of all ages" with a target cost of $100.00. While this magical number and price threshold has yet to be reached, this theme of low-cost computing for the masses has continued to this very day with the OLPC project founded by Nicholas Negroponte and which Kay serves as an advisory board member.

Also Read: Can We Finally Realize Alan Kay's "Dynabook" for $100? (11/08)

The Dynabook and PADD remained purely within the realm of science fiction until the mass production of microprocessors, in which early pen-based computers such as the Pencept were used for handwriting recognition applications. But the Pencept and early products like it were not portable devices.

The first true "Tablet" computing device was the GRiDPad, released in 1990 by GRiD Systems, an early pioneer in laptop computers. GRiD was acquired by Tandy, the parent corporation of Radio Shack, which later released the Zoomer, one of the first PDA devices, and had the distinction of being created by Jeff Hawkins, who would later go on to found Palm Computing and then HandSpring with his partner Donna Dubinsky.

The Palm/Handspring devices became extremely successful, but they were not true PADD-like devices. Instead, they firmly established the PDA device category which would later on become what we know today as Smartphones.

Several other companies during the 1990s attempted to mass market pen and tablet-based systems but failed to popularize them, such as Go Corporation, Momenta and Wang. Apple Computer itself also launched its first attempt at this time to release something close to the PADD in terms of actual form factor and with a similar CPU architecture to the iPad -- the Newton MessagePad, in 1993.

The Newton was developed and released during the time in which Steve Jobs was "exiled" from the company and was deemed to be a huge commercial failure, due to its high cost and difficult and highly proprietary development platform which hampered the amount of 3rd-party applications which were created for the device.

Jobs himself killed the product in 1998 shortly after returning to the company as interim CEO in late 1996, and for over a decade it was thought that Apple would never return to this form factor ever again.

Since the failure of the Newton, the Tablet or PADD form-factor has always come under intense scrutiny, as no manufacturer or company has been able to make the concept stick.

In the last decade, Microsoft along with its OEM partners attempted several Tablet PCs using Windows XP and Windows Vista, but the devices were large and heavy and gave off a lot of heat.

HP's Slate, which also runs on the full-blown Windows 7 OS is expected to compete aggressively with iPad in terms of price and features, and solves the weight/size/heat issues of its fore-bearers, but its ensuing success (or lack thereof, depending on who you talk to) remains to be seen.

In addition to the HP Slate, Microsoft has also introduced the Courier concept, but so far no concrete plans to produce the device, release design specifications or the platform it would run on have been announced.

While the iPad's commercial success isn't guaranteed, it seems likely that based on its iPhone DNA and huge application ecosystem that it has probably one of the best chances of becoming the device that finally validates the Tablet form factor.

At the end of the day, and even after all of Apple's hard work, we have Gene Roddenberry and his visionary designers from Star Trek to thank for the inspiration for this technological marvel -- the PADD.

Is the iPad the ultimate realization of Star Trek's portable computing vision? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • You're darn tootin'

    "but in reality we are only doing it for one reason: We?re nerds and have an obsession with wanting to be part of a living Star Trek episode."

    Now if we could only have the LCARS look with it... :)
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I Guarantee

      Someone is going to build an LCARS app.
      • It's already been done for the iPhone/iPod Touch [nt]

    • While waiting :)
      • Here's another:

        I love BTW. Haven't been there in a while!
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • LCARS

      I wanted to put LCARS on my iPhone, but my model (2010 32GB model) hasn't been jail broken yet. So, I'll have to wait until a new jail break hack comes out to put LCARS on my iPhone. :D
      • Here it is

        I got this link from the site mentioned in the other post.

        I don't have an iPhone though so I have no idea what this is like.

        But no need to jailbreak.
        • Thanks, but...

          Thanks, but that's just a clock. What I'm referring to is replacing the entire interface with an LCARS interface (available on Cydia). This requires jailbreaking.
    • good read

      jason, a very good read.

      man, what happened to you?
      • Hell you say anything positive for Apple

        Your alligiance is well known. Not everyone believes in Carnival Barker Steve though. Think different people, stop being sheep.
        • i admit ...

          it is pretty obvious where my allegiance lies but jason has gone from
          greatest apple hater to apple user shaking in anticipation for the jesus
          tablet in no time. what is going on here?
        • Same for Microsoft

          ??? Think different people, stop being the anti-sheep.

          I cannot believe people hating a company like Apple but loving Microsoft.
          Hate the product...... fine.
          Make fun of the CEO... fine.
          Hate the company that is leading the rest in product innovation...... Just
          a little weird if you ask me.... unless you are a paid troll and you are
          seeing your paycheck come to an end...???????

          Just a thought.
    • Epic Fail

      Why the ipad is an Epic Fail:

      1. 1024x768 = No Widescreen ? SVGA has been out of date for quite a few years now.
      2. No Multi-tasking. What ? Seriously ?
      3. No Flash Support. This is the real deal killer. 80% of the COOL websites out there today use Flash.
      4. You have to use itunes. It is only the WORST program in the history of programming. There's no way I'd ever put that on my computer.
      5. ATT Network (Need I say more?)
      • Epic Sell

        Because even though what you say is true, who cares. Many people will buy it anyway. My local Apple store says there are waiting lists for it.

        Plus there will probably be second generation and third generation iPads that will deal with some of those issues you are talking about.
        still not nice
      • sounds just like..

        What people said about:
        the iPod.... now with 70+% of the market
        the iPhone..... moving up in % fast.

        Yep, love Microsoft, hate the iPad....... and watch it zoom past netbooks
        like crazy.

        Just a thought,
  • Here's impressive

    My computer passes the Turing test and talks to me in Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's voice.

    I can book warp 5 passage to the Wunderland or Home colonies and escape the oppressive government. Yes, that's Niven in the Star Trek universe....sorry but it did happen once in the cartoon.

    You techies need to get cracking!
    • "Yes, that's Niven in the Star Trek universe..."

      [i]"... sorry but it did happen once in the cartoon."
      Actually, more than once. Then again, I was quite a fan of Mrress when
      she subbed for Uhura. If she was in a story, then there was a significant
      likelihood that it was a Niven-based story.
  • Is the iPad the ultimate realization of Star Trek's computing vision?

    No. Not with those blatant device limitations.

    But one of the 50+ other tablets coming out later this year will probably come much much closer.
    • Just remember

      Even in Star Trek TNG the PADD was a limited device, it served as a portable reading and information input/output device, and no match in computing horsepower or flexibility to the desktop, er, starship computer ;)
      • Not exactly.

        The PADDs in ST and TNG were basically wireless terminals usually linked to whatever local mainframe was available.

        Think cloud computing - more literally "above the cloud" computing since that's normally where star ships exist. Another option would be Citrix/Terminal Services remote desktop paradigm which would allow the user to log into said mainframe and do their thing.

        Away from the ship, those things would likely be about as useless as a screen door on the star ship.

        You gotta think back to how computers were back in the 60's. Personal computing devices weren't around. Hand held calculators were just around the corner. A computer was a mainframe or mini that took up a LOT of space. Mainly because they had vacuum tubes and miles of wires - not chips like we've got today.

        Desktops and laptops weren't even a glimmer in their inventor's eyes yet.