Entertainment / Technology / Television

Voyages of the Starship Apple

So Apple had its now-annual “LOOK A NEW iPAD!” event today, and surprised everyone by unveiling…a new iPad. It is not, mind you, the iPad 3. It is not the iPad HD, either. It is simply “the new iPad”. The odd lack of distinctive nomenclature aside, this new iPad looks very impressive. With a Retina display, quad-core graphics processor, 5-megapixel camera, voice dictation, and 4G/LTE connectivity, it is certainly a big enough leap to make iPad 2 owners seriously jealous.

Star Trek's PADD

This is either complete gibberish or the latest draft of a Rick Santorum speech.

And with this, Apple takes another step towards another frontier…the Final Frontier.

Anyone who watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and on is no doubt familiar with the PADD, Starfleet’s ubiquitous 24th-century handheld device that seemed to largely replace books and paper on the USS Enterprise-D. It seemed pretty futuristic 23 years ago. But while we may never achieve faster-than-light travel or be able to de-molecularize ourselves and beam across the planet in an eyeblink, we certainly have caught up – perhaps even surpassed– Star Trek in terms of our communication and information devices.

Seven of Nine

Seven of Nine looks on as Captain Janeway tries to get everyone killed to prove a point for the 26th time.

Honestly, the iPad seems to blow away the PADD. Perhaps we never really saw what it could do since it was just a bit player in the futuristic goings-on, or because it was more often than not just a static plastic prop with a sticker on it. But generally the PADD would make an appearance when someone had a report to turn in to Captain Picard, a casualty list to turn into Captain Sisko, or if Seven of Nine was writing one of her hundred-or-so “You will fail at mentoring me because you are absolutely batshit insane” letters to Captain Janeway.

So, mostly memos. We do that now with e-mail. Of course, with Riker asking Picard if he got the e-mail he sent about Romulan troop movements along the Neutral Zone, the scene is robbed of a certain gravitas.

People would even have stacks of them sometimes, and say, “Oh wait, I have that report about self-sealing stem bolts on this PADD, not that one,” calling into question the storage capacity of these things. Even the smallest-capacity iPad could hold an untold number of cargo bay inventories and crew evaluations. You’d never need stacks of the things cluttering up your space-desk. Not to mention that the PADD could easily link up to the ship’s main computer and have access to virtually any knowledge Starfleet had at the time. Granted, there were certain drawbacks to even that, what with certain androids interfacing with the computer and inadvertently replacing everyone’s memos or plays or manifestos with pages upon pages of shitty cat poetry.

From the TNG episode "The Game"

It was painful for all of us, Wesley.

Plus, we never saw the futuristic equivalent of Angry Birds, unless of course you count that episode where Wesley Crusher and Ashley Judd have to save the ship, and you should never count that one. Plus, that didn’t use a PADD. Granted, most crews of Star Trek have had fully-interactive holodecks to play around in when they’re off-duty, and that certainly beats the hell out of Fruit Ninja. Gaming devices would seem pretty superfluous in a future where you can step into an empty room and then all of a sudden be in Professor Moriarty’s study or standing side-by-side with Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

But the one thing the PADD certainly had over the iPad was that it was damn-near indestructible. The Technical Manual says that a typical PADD can withstand a drop of 35 meters, and since I’ve referenced the Star Trek Technical Manual, I have established and renewed my geek cred for the next decade. PADDs could take a beating, though. The Captains rarely made it through a season without tossing at least one PADD across the room in disgust. Sisko was especially hard on his, slamming them down on his desk every time someone took a runabout without permission or the war took a turn (and another turn) for the worse. I doubt many people are hurling their iPads about in such a fashion.

So while I’m still looking forward to visiting my holographic harem some day, it’s nice to see that human ingenuity occasionally outstrips the creativity of science fiction writers. And maybe – just maybe – I’ll be writing this blog on an iPad someday, imagining myself racing across the galaxy to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly tap the Publish button.

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