This Week in Tablets: Apple’s iPad turns three, and game designers couldn’t be happier

March 30, 2013

Believe it or not, Wednesday, April 3 marks the third anniversary of Apple’s release of the original iPad.

Remember the controversy around Apple’s announcement of the device on January 27, 2010? By April 3, no one was laughing at the name, the device, or Apple itself. A couple hundred million tablets later, so many devices have been designed, sold, cancelled, and changed that it’s hard to believe only three years have elapsed.

This week, I received a startling reminder of how small an amount of time three years can feel like.

My wife is currently binging on Battlestar Galactica. She started watching season one last weekend, and since then has already made her way through the first two seasons in their entirety.

I’ve already seen the entire series, but it’s been fun to watch Battlestar again. There’s a surprising amount of foreshadowing in the show—the writers clearly knew where the story was headed way ahead of time.

Want to know something odd? This week I noticed for the first time that there’s not a tablet anywhere to be found in the series. Not on the last remaining vestiges of humanity. Not on the ships. Not in the military.

I know there was a massive human apocalypse, but you'd think someone would have brought their futuristic tablet with them. It’s understandable that grand old Galactica might not have had a whole lot of tablets built into its systems. The ship was old enough that it was about to be decommissioned, and part of its inherent advantage against the Cylon menace was its fairly analog systems. But no one else has them either. They just don't exist in this universe.

Of course, the real reason there aren’t any tablets in Battlestar Galactica is because there were barely any tablets on earth in 2004. If we weren’t using them, how would the writers and producers and set designers for the show conceive of them?

It doesn't make it any easier to get over this, however. This means that in the far-flung future, we have warp drives, but no tablets. Maybe the show’s writers deliberately left out personal technology under the assumption that it would date the show.

Whatever the case, it’s yet another humble reminder of the remarkable rate that tablets have become such an integral part of our lives.

Real game changers

I spent a considerable amount of my week at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco at the Moscone Convention Center, and got a first-hand glimpse at how much tablets are changing the face of gaming.

Every year, when I tell my friends and family about GDC, they invariably have a few incorrect assumptions. First, they always assume that the conference is a big, glitzy exhibition along the lines of E3 in Los Angeles, complete with flashing lights, lots of noise, and booth babes.

Second, they assume that GDC is oriented primarily oriented towards “big” console experiences, and caters to the Xbox and PlayStation crowds.

Nothing could be further from the truth in either regard.

The best thing about GDC is that it is a conference in the truest sense of the word. In fact, it’s one of those rare events where the signal is high, and the noise is low. Real low. Game Developers Conference allows you the chance to hear real (and famous) game designers talking about their craft intelligently and honestly.

Over the last two years, the onset of tablets has been a major factor of growth at the show—enough so that this year, the conferences producers hosted a full two-day summit focusing exclusively on smartphone and tablet game design.

One of the big themes this year was not the “big” console experience that can be found on the Xbox or PlayStation, but the free to play game models that are increasingly being embraced by smartphone, tablet, PC, and console game makers alike.

Another theme was how tablets and other second screen devices will integrate into gamers’ lives, either concurrently or before/after “big” gaming sessions.

Three years after the iPad, it’s clear that mobile gaming—which emphasizes snack-sized entertainment and pay-as-you-go models vs. over-the-top experiences and large upfront costs—is having a tremendous impact upon overall game design. And, based on the showing at GDC 2013, game designers of all shapes and sizes are making a lot of cash.

This week’s winner: Apple

An easy one this week. On the eve of the third anniversary of the iPad, it feels illogical to pick any other winner. Right?

This week’s loser(s): HP, Sony

Both companies pushed back the launches of highly anticipated tablets. HP was forced to postpone the low-priced $169 Slate 7 Android tablet back to June. And Sony was forced to push the 10-inch Android Xperia Tablet Z to May. Neither company gave a reason explaining the delay. Maybe both companies are delaying in order to have a hot product available for dads and grads at the beginning of the summer. 

On the horizon

A few developments bear watching over the next few weeks.

First, it seems clear that Microsoft is gearing up for the second round of its campaign to place Windows 8 and Windows 8 devices into more and more households.

On the heels of last weekend’s leak of Windows Blue screenshots, Microsoft appeared to confirm that 7-inch versions of Windows 8 tablets are on the horizon. The developer recently relaxed its hardware certification so that devices supporting resolutions down to 1024 x 768 are now acceptable. 

What else is coming for Windows 8? We may be about to find out. Microsoft just announced that it’s annual Build conference for 2013 will take place June 26 to June 28. (In the meantime, TabTimes columnist Doug Drinkwater has an astute analysis of what's going wrong with Windows 8, and what some fixes might be.)

Second: An Ars Technica story about a Jeff Bezos patent for “remote displays” that would receive data and power from some kind of central “primary station” caught my eye earlier this week.

The patent goes on to explain several other uses for such a remote display, and also justifies such a device by explaining that the ability to shrink tablets and e-readers is ultimately gated by the necessity of integrating batteries and processors into them.

In the meantime, Apple has been busy on its own patents, including one for a flexible, wrap-around display.

One thing’s for sure: Given how fast tablets and tablet/mobile technology have progressed in the last three years, I’m not writing anything off. 


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