A Tale of Two Tablets
Over the past couple of weeks I have been pondering my concept of the perfect tablet. I realized that it has one factor that trumps all others: the entire Internet has to be easily accessible and understandable at all times, regardless of whether or not you have an Internet connection. A key part to understanding information, for me, is the way that I organize and return to it later on. If I can remember a mathematical concept from my notes on something I was taught four months ago in calculus, I should be able to organize what I read about and experience on the Internet in a way that makes sense to me. Then, late the other night, I had an idea. It came to me while watching the most recent version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). I noticed that the representation of the guide closely resembles Microsoft's defunct Courier concept. I thought, "Someone should combine these somehow."
Available and Understandable Information
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was conceived at a time (1978) when the Internet as we know it did not exist and the concept of a single, portable device that could access a repository of all knowledge was seen as an unobtainable vision of science fiction authors. These days, however, that is not the case. Everybody and their grandmother can go on the Internet to find out how to do anything. With the proliferation of resources such as Wikipedia, WikiHow, eHow, About.com and a bevy of others, the age of readily attainable information is in full swing. For example, last year I watched a recording of Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel Laureate and professor of Physics at MIT, lecturing a packed auditorium about Bose-Einstein condensates. In about an hour (the length of the lecture posted to MIT's website), I went from complete ignorance to the mere existence of these super cooled gasses to having been lectured by one of the pioneers in a field dedicated to them. Another example of the constant availability of information is the WikiReader, a small device (3.9 x 3.9 x 0.8 inches ; 4.5 ounces) that contains a complete copy of Wikipedia stored on an SD card. This device requires no Internet connection to access Wikipedia and has ridiculously long battery life (the manufacturer claims 12 months on two AAA batteries). There are, however, caveats to this device. One of these is that to have an up to date version of Wikipedia, you have to download a copy of the site from WikiReader's website and transfer this file to an SD card, which is an inelegant solution. More importantly,the information that the device presents to you is not easily understandable. The Internet and the hyper-availability of information that it has brought fulfills one of my requirements for the perfect tablet. It is not enough, however, to be simply presented with information, I need to be able to organize and later return to it process it in a manner that is logical.
This leaves the other part of my criteria: the ease of processing and organizing the information you obtain. The guide from the movie does not clearly organize information other than retaining information and reading information requested by voice search. That is not enough. This is where the Courier comes in. I want to be able to access information and organize it with the same seamless experience and fluidity that the Courier (at least the concept videos) provided. Imagine that the collected knowledge of the universe is instantly available to you and you can organize, process, and therefore understand all of it. That is what this post really is: a plea for some company somewhere to execute the concept of the Courier. Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, once said, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." Hopefully, with the current rate of progress in the world of technology, a time where my perfect tablet is commercially available is near.