I need to preface this entry to make something abundantly clear: I am not an Apple fan. Microsoft stocks are what are paying for a majority of my college tuition so I have a slightly biased opinion about Microsoft’s biggest competitor. Nonetheless I was quite interested in yesterday’s announcement of the iPad. This announcement transcended my (somewhat unfair) bias against Apple. Instead, I was drawn to the announcement as a fan of Star Trek.
Wait! Don’t close your browser and run! (Hopefully it’s Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.) Just because I said “Star Trek” does not mean I am going to devolve and start to explain how a warp engine works. The technology featured in Star Trek is supposed to represent the late 23rd Century, but as the years go by, more and more technology seen in Star Trek is starting to become a reality.
For example, we already have communicators. When Captain Kirk was down on a planet and he needed to call up to the Enterprise, he would flip out his communicator. Modern cell phones are already capable of performing the tasks of a communicator, and even more! We can send text messages, take pictures and send them to people or our computers, and even track ourselves using GPS. I also never saw Captain Kirk using his communicator to play Pac-Man or calculate a tip for his waiter when he would go out for dinner. Even with all of these features our cell phones are thinner than anything Captain Kirk ever used.
So why get excited over the iPad? Star Trek predicted that too. Limitations of the 1960s television kept the Star Trek version of the pad bulky and in the background. It wasn’t until Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late 80s that the pad was shown in its modern form. In this iteration it was very small, and capable of doing anything from recording audio to displaying video clips. It was even called a PADD, or Personal Access Display Device. They were not seen as a big deal because in the frame of Star Trek, it wasn’t a big technology leap. Everyone had a PADD.
Here we are in the early 21st century and Steve Jobs is telling us about the iPad. People are right to question the practicality of having one, but as I remember people questioned the iPhone too. Now the iPhone is seen as benchmark piece of technology. There have been questions about the iPad’s name in relation to feminine hygiene products, but as Monica Hesse wrote in The Washington Post, “This is not the first time that a widely anticipated product launch was met with ridicule. Nintendo’s Wii was referred to as “Wee” by disparaging gamers who could not get stoked about a console that sounded like a potty-training term.” After selling millions of units, I suppose the Wii gets the last laugh on this one.
Will I camp out and be one of the very first iPad owners? No. Will I even buy one this year? Probably not. But after Apple rolls out the 2nd and 3rd generation models? Maybe.
It remains to be seen if Apple can convince people that they need a piece of technology that fits between a computer and smart-phone, but if history is any indication I imagine they will. Watch out Captain Kirk, the 21st century is catching up.