Geek on the Cheap #132: iPad versus Skinput — Device versus Surface

Apr 04, 2010 | Posted in fashion-tech, Geek on the Cheap

No, this is not yet another review of the vaunted iPad. Yes, I did swing by the local Apple store on Saturday to check it out: it looked/worked like my iPod Touch ballooned a few times larger, with lots more fingerprints. Enough said. (If you want an iPad review, you can read a ridiculous number of iPad stories from Wired.com or just go and play with an iPad yourself.)

What you may not have heard due to all the Apple mania, is that the JooJoo tablet also came out this past weekend. Originally dubbed the CrunchPad, it’s had a tortuous journey to market and looks a little like the iPad’s ugly stepsister (see also Engadget’s unboxing video).

Soon there will be more and more tablets to choose from, just as there are now a plenitude of netbooks on the market. So the question is: Which is the future — tablet or netbook? Or neither?

Both tablets and netbooks are taking two user issues into consideration: size and functionality. Ideally, we users would like all the functionality of our desktop or laptop computers in a smaller (more portable) form factor. Or, we want at least the functionality of our smart phones in a larger form factor. The netbook partially solves the first issue and the tablet partially solves the second. There’s also the creator vs. consumer issue. The netbook makes it easier to be a creator with a built-in keyboard and access to productivity software. The tablet makes it easier to be a consumer with a simple touch interface and ready access to entertainment and social networking.

Of the two, the tablet has captured the imagination in a more concrete way. According to Wired, the tablet “will change the world.” (A mini-entertainment center is a lot more fun than a mini-workhorse.)

But in fact we kind of want it all, don’t we? We want small size (phone size) and high functionality (desktop functionality). We want to be able to create at times and consume at times. But how many devices do we want to purchase and carry around and have to sync? Instead of more devices, what about one small device and many surfaces?

This is where something like Skinput comes in. It projects an graphical user interface (GUI) on your arm, then reads the vibration when you tap your arm. The example they show in the video of controlling another device strapped to your arm is where you can see its utility. It wouldn’t work for typing, for example, because you’d be one-handed. But imagine being able to project a GUI or a keyboard wherever you want — like the Virtual Laser Keyboard (VKB), only smaller, more accurate, more graphically extensible.

Now imagine a tiny device in your pocket that transmits to a tiny projector that you can use for input and output, or to a “screening” surface that you can fold up and stick in your pocket. Now that’s the future. The tablet is merely the right now.

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