Tablets 2.0

By Will Rourk

Tablets and slates have taken precedence over traditional, mobile communication methods. In some ways, we are back to square one—the Ancients had their clay tablets (and no data plan). Today’s tablets pay homage to these devices and, since the early-2000s, they have defined a growing genre of laptop in which a stylus-driven screen can twist and fold back on itself, covering the keyboard and providing a flatter, more planar form factor. Without a dedicated keyboard, the tablet is a sleeker, more nimble de- vice. You might even call it downright pharaonic.

At January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the spotlight on mobile technologies shone brightest on tablets and slates. In particular, an array of Google Android devices amongst a shallower assortment of Microsoft Slates, Blackberry Playbooks and, in its debut, the Palm WebOS tablet. Currently, most of these are listed as “coming soon” and those that are actually on store shelves are merely toy-like impressions of their true potential. But, since last April, Apple’s iPad has set the pace with what’s become the quintessential icon of tablet computing and, perhaps, a future model of personal computing.

The iPad combines elegant design and efficient, integrated operating system that moves the consumer closer to a true computing device that combines smart-phone with desk- top computer.  It’s not quite a computer, of course, but easier to use and more responsive than an iPhone. It also enables instant access to information through WiFi or 3G network communications. In short, it’s a device that will affect the way the design professionals work.

Members of Charlottesville-based Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect transitioned their office from printed portfolio to mobile tablet. Using iPhoto on his iPad, firm founder and principal Gregg Bleam easily shares projects and design data with clients. “As landscape architects, we rely heavily on presenting precedent images during client meetings. It’s often difficult to describe a particular plant to a client without an image especially when you are referring to many different plant types in a project,” says Bleam. Access to info helps team members answer client questions immediately without having to “flip through a book to find an answer, which can be disruptive,” he says. “If the client requests a printed portfolio I can easily produce one by sending the iPhoto images off to Apple to be bound and printed.”

Outside the client meeting, portability, functionality, and network access are key for field work. David Alder, a principal at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in Durham, North Carolina, adapted an iPad to be his primary computing device. “I used to have my laptop open all day at the office but it now stays closed,” he reports. “When you’re meeting with a client, the laptop creates a barrier when it is opened up and the iPad doesn’t have that barrier because it’s flat like a piece of paper.” Alder can access most of his apps and information from his office’s cloud server and that allows him to engage with more design specific applications like AutoCAD WS for viewing and editing files and documents in a mobile environment.

Design’s alchemy is still not an application you can buy, but the way design happens has changed within this mobile environment. Beyond the capital required to buy into a completely mobile workflow, overhead costs and, ultimately, project costs will go down for one thing. But, even as mobile computing is about the individual’s relationship to their device, a mobile workflow may, in fact, make design more collaborative.

Will Rourk is a digital media specialist in the University of Virginia Library System’s Digital Medial Lab.

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