Friday, January 29, 2010

Apple iPad in 1996

In 1996 I wrote a future history talk "Australia: The Networked Nation" featuring a hypothetical PADD (named after the devices in Star Trek). My device was to be 176 × 250 x 10 mm. The Apple iPad comes close at 190 x 243 x 13 mm. I had in mind a 3:4 format screen, whereas the iPad has a wider screen.
"Personal Access Display Devices (PADDs) are the ... successor to the primitive Personal Digital Assistants, notebook PCs, radio pagers and mobile phones of 1996. ...

Larger PADDs ... dimensions of a B5 sheet of paper, by 1 cm thick ... touch sensitive screen covering the whole upper surface, which is also a high resolution (2000 x 2000 pixel by 16 million colour) screen. All PADDs have video and audio built in and can operate as what a 1996 person would know as a mobile phone, radio, TV and video cam-corder. ...

The QWERTY keyboard, in its virtual form is still in use for data entry. ..."

From: Australia: The Networked Nation, Tom Worthington, 7 February 1996
However, in retrospect I think a smaller device with a screen about twice the size of an iPhone would be better (the size of smaller PADDs in Star Trek). This is the size of the screen on the smaller Amazon Kindle. It would be about 125 × 88 mm and make a passport (ISO B7) size device which would be easier to hold in one hand. Apple might be reluctant to make a device this small, as it would compete with the iPhone. Kept in a large pocket or handbag, it could be used as a phone via a Bluetooth device (resembling a Star Trek communicator).

My prediction for resolution of the screen was a bit high at 2000 x 2000 pixels and the iPad lacks a camera. The prediction it would run Linux was almost right, with the iPad using a version of Unix (but Linus Torvalds has not got the Nobel prize yet).

I got the bit about online storage right: "Data is stored safely on servers, either owned by the employee's company or a contracted service provider. Data is downloaded as required over the network." My prediction for processing power was a bit low: "equivalent to about four 1996 era Intel Pentium processors", but memory was far too low: "(64 megabytes) to hold the data the user needs immediately".

Apple are a bit late with the iPad as I predicted it would be released in 2005. Some other predictions went better, with Senator Helen Coonan, when Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts commenting on the telecommunications predictions. One prediction which is now coming true, and the current government will be less happy with, is that fibre optic cable to households will prove uneconomic and be overtaken by wireless.

The bit about "Politicians have learnt to be careful about heavy handed attempts at net regulation." is about to come true with the predicted "Internet Party" forming as the Australian branch of The Pirate Party.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OLPC XO3 Educational Tablet Computer

OLPC XO-3 XO 3.0 Educational Tablet ComputerThe One Laptop Per Child Project have released some details of their planned XO-3 concept design. The educational computer due out in 2012 will be a multi-touch flexible screen tablet computer with an ARM processor. The computer is aimed to cost less than US$100 (as was the original XO-1). It may be that the product has been announced now in anticipation of interest in tablet computer generated by rumours of an Apple tablet device.

It should be noted that tablet computers have not been popular outside limited niche commercial markets, such as for medical staff. The tablet computer would have advantages for education, being able to customise the virtual keyboard four different languages and different topics in software. However, it comes at a cost, with the virtual keyboard taking up one third to one half the screen (depending on its use in landscape or portrait mode). The virtual keyboard will use much more power than a real keyboard and also cost much more.

The screen of a portable computer makes a significant part of the cost. An alternative design would have a screen taking up half the body of the computer and a rubber membrane keyboard (as used on the OLPC XO-1) on the other half of the keyboard. The rubber keyboard would cost less and also use much less power.

The XO-3 assumes the use of a flexible screen and flexible circuit board. These are relatively new technology for computer building and therefore the cost of manufacture will be initially high. An alternative design would use a conventional rigid screen and circuit board. The screen could be protected by a thick plastic sheet and a rubber ridge around the edge. The computer could be made without a conventional chassis, consisting of instead a molded rubber waterproof case (the front of which would be the keyboard) holding the components. This could use existing conventional components from netbook computers and use calculator construction techniques for a very low cost computer.

• XO 3.0 – The XO 3.0 is a totally different approach, to be available in 2012 and at a target price well below $100. It will feature a new design using a single sheet of flexible plastic and will be unbreakable and without holes in it. The XO 3.0 will leapfrog the previously announced (May 2008) XO 2.0, a two-page approach that will not be continued. The inner workings of 3.0 will come from the more modest 1.75. ...


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Friday, June 27, 2008

Apple Store Sydney

Apple's new store in Sydney opened 19 June 2008. I visited yesterday and found it still crowded with people. The store has the same glass curtain wall, transparent minimal design as other Apple stores. It makes an interesting contrast with the Telstra T.Life store opposite. Telstra have tried very hard to be cool, but can't quite achieve it, whereas Apple seem to do it effortlessly.

The architectural highlight of the Apple store is a glass staircase. The treads appear transparent when looked at side on, creating anxiety as to how substantial they are. However, they are made of multiple sheets of laminated glass and when you look down at the step you are standing on you see that the top surface is frosted and has a miniature checker plate non slip pattern on it. The result is something which looks insubstantial from a distance but solid close up.

The store has minimal blond wood furniture and a white back lit wall. It looks best from across the road at night and appears to be a large glass display case. The ground floor has desktop and note book computers, with iPods on the first floor and training and support above. Like the Telstra store, it is so minimal that it is difficult to discover there are other floors or what might be on them and so I needed to ask one of the numerous and very helpful staff.

One dangerous flaw with the store is that the presence of glass indicators on the curtain wall are inadequate. These have been done in frosting and, particularly from the side, are not easy to see. As a result I almost walked into the glass wall of the building. I pointed this out to one of the staff , suggesting they needed to add more and easy to see markers (they said they would tell the management). Apple need to fix this quickly; apart from the danger to pedestrians, a service or emergency vehicle maneuvering on the footpath could well drive into the building, not seeing the glass. Australian Standard AS 1288-2006 Glass in buildings - Selection and installation, section 5.19: MAKING GLASS VISIBLE (MANIFESTATION) requires a glass panel to be marked to make it visible with an opaque band which is readily apparent. The Apple store does not meet this standard.

Also the front steps are in gray stone, which is hard to see and could be improved with some warning Tactile Ground Surface Indicators. The architect might think these additions would detract from the minimal design, but it would be better than death or injury to the customers or staff.

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