Some posts I’ve seen recently have me wondering if the evolutionary paths of tablets and laptops may eventually merge into a sort of hybrid device.
Exhibit A: I’ve often thought that it would be cool if a touchscreen could modify its shape a little bit to provide tactile feedback. What is one of the common complaints about typing on an iPhone? There’s no real keyboard with physical buttons, so you can’t feel the keys you’re typing on. But if you were able to develop a screen that was capable of moving up and down just a little bit around specific portions of the screen then you could produce a custom interactive keyboard on demand with real, tactile buttons. New Scientist reports that Microsoft just patented a new way of making tactile touchscreens possible.
Exhibit B: Acer recently unveiled the Iconia, a dual screen tablet PC. There’s also the Toshiba Libretto. These are essentially two tablets put together with a hinge. Or a laptop that has replaced its keyboard with a touchscreen. I guess it depends on how you look at it. But, it seems that so far manufacturers view it as a modification of the laptop. Engaget’s review of the Libretto identified many of the possibilities with this new screen, but the Libretto’s implementation left them wondering “. . . what exactly are you supposed to use this thing for?” It seems from the screen shots that the user interface designers were still pretty trapped in the laptop paradigm. It’s clear that there is much untapped potential in this platform.
Now let’s put it all together. If done well, you could have the best of a tablet and the best of a laptop, plus some more all in one.
Orient the device one way and you have a laptop, with a fully functional keyboard presenting itself on the bottom. Same as the Iconia seen above, except this time you can feel the individual keys. Orient the device another way and you’ve got a book. A great eReader form factor that allows you to view both pages of a book simultaneously. Lay the device out flat and you get a nice, big tablet. Just imagine the innovations in user interface design that could be possible.