What’s Next For the iPad? A Tabletop iPad, According to Xerox PARC Circa 1991


A 50-inch multitouch screen from Samsung shown off at CES in 2009. These devices will soon be common, according to a visionary, 20-year-old report from Xerox PARC. Image: Engadget.

Way back in 1991, just as Apple was transitioning from 68k to PowerPC chips, the braniacs at Xerox PARC were predicting it’s entire iPod, iPhone and iPad strategy. And next up for the iPad is a blackboard-sized device.

Nearly 20 years ago, just as personal desktop computers were taking off, researchers at Xerox started thinking about the next stage: ubiquitous computers and the cloud.

They envisioned a range of always-connected devices that came in three basic form-factors: Tabs, Pads, and Boards. They are described thus in a Scientific American article:

“Ubiquitous computers will also come in different sizes, each suited to a particular task. My colleagues and I have built what we call tabs, pads and boards: inch-scale machines that approximate active Post-It notes, foot-scale ones that behave something like a sheet of paper (or a book or a magazine), and yard-scale displays that are the equivalent of a blackboard or bulletin board.”

The inch-scale “tabs” are Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch, plus smartphones from Google and Palm. The foot-scale “pads” are the iPad and the 50-odd tablets coming out this year. And next up are yard-scale “boards,” which will act a big-screen hubs in the home and interactive workspaces in the office. Microsoft’s Surface table is the best current example, but more big-screen devices are inevitable as component prices come down thanks to the flat-screen TV industry.

What’s amazing is how twenty years later PARC’s vision describes Apple’s transition into a “mobile” company with a range of devices accessing the cloud. It’s fitting that the vision that should come for the same lab that invented more-or-less personal desktop computing.

Via Adam Rosen: Ubiquitous Computing 2010 – Tabs, Pads, Books and Clouds.