With Apple’s new iPad science fiction meets reality

ipadWhile we usually restrict ourselves to articles on science fiction and fantasy films, books and TV, I can’t pass up this opportunity to reveal details of Apple’s “latest creation” just announced by Steve Jobs. I woke up amazingly early in Australia to watch Steve Job's presentation and give you the news first.

Apple’s new iPad (pictured below) is a 9.7-inch multimedia tablet computer (half way between a laptop and an iPhone) running a new 1GHz Apple A4 chip developed by Apple and includes WiFI, 3G, Bluetooth, a microphone and speakers and 16GB, 32 GB or 64 GB in flash memory. However much you love your Amazon Kindle e-reader, Apple's iPad eclipses this and every other e-Reader or tablet that has come before it. The Wifi only option starts at US $499, a lot cheaper than some predicted.

The iPad has 10 hours of battery life and a massive 1 month on standby mode and the 9.7-inch display is just 0.5-inches thick. Apple has partnered with big name publishers for their new iBook app, which displays books on the iPad as if they're on a wooden bookshelf (literally). Publishers involved include Penguin, Harper Collins, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster. With it you can carry around a complete e-book library, browse the Internet, watch video, listen to music, send and read emails and more, this time on a device that doesn't strain your eyeballs.

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With multitouch gesture control the iPad is getting closer to the interface Tom Cruise uses to handle giant touch screens in Minority Report, and more recently the tablet designs imagined in James Cameron’s Avatar, as they are prepping Jake Sully for his Avatar trips. The iPad is the type of device science fiction writers in the 70s, 80s and 90s have dreamt about.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke describes something called a "Newspad" (a foolscap-sized device), which one of the novel’s central characters, Heywood Floyd, “plugs into the ship's information circuit and scans the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.”

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In Orson Scott Card's Ender’s Game, the schoolchildren all have "Desks", advanced tablet devices they carry around and use to research and write reports, complete tests, and access all types of multimedia information.

Douglas Adams in 1979, in his fantastic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, describes an electronic universal guide book, a cross between Wikipedia and an advanced travel guide. "It's a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's its job," Ford Prefect reveals to Arthur Dent. Douglas Adams was also a well known Apple Mac fanatic, and I’m sure he would have loved to have witnessed the unveiling of Apple’s iPad if had lived to see it.

In Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a book-shaped multimedia device with artificial intelligence that, amongst other things, makes sure its reader leads an interesting life and grows up to be an effective member of society. Apple and Steve Job’s haven’t included artificial intelligence in the iPad, but I’m guessing they’ll be adding that feature with the next software update.

It’s fascinating to think that the type of device I used to read descriptions of in science fiction novels as a teenager is something I’ll soon be able to walk into a shop to buy. The iPad is an educational tool, a media viewing revolution, and an information hub backed up by Apple’s app store, alliances with publishers, studios and a growing iPhone user base ready to jump on board.

Let us know if you can think of any other references to tablet type devices in science fiction books and films that we’ve missed, and give us your own view of Apple’s iPad. Is it a futuristic multimedia dream machine? A science fiction inspired multimedia revolution? Or am I just getting carried away with the hype and should take a couple of valium and lie down?

 

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