From Tablets to Table Top Computing

Yanko Design cpu on a table top conceptI know that I have talked about this before, but I do like the idea of surfaces becoming interfaces for computing, especially in public spaces such as coffeeshops where having enough space to work is a concern. Now, about this design – recently profiled at Yanko Design – actually removes the mobile from the equation. I don’t know that would work in this day where there are just too many mobiles in hand, but it does offer an interesting question – are tablets just a step to table top interfaces like this?

As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks that is quite busy. Already people have come in, only to find that there were no or not large enough spaces for them to work, and so they turned around and left. One gentleman has a newspaper sprawled in front of him, hanging off the edges as he is moving the section that he is reading onto the flat table. A young woman pitched herself at the bar area in the corner to work on her laptop. Another woman, sitting closest to me, has a book, iPhone, laptop, and purse on the largest real estate within this establishment. Myself, I am at a small circular table, with my iPad now resting on it next to my N8.

Just to note, there are others here in positions without tables. At least in this moment, they are all using laptops for computing, one person reading a book, and two in the midst of a conversation without mobiles in hand.

The common thing here is the table top. Not necessarily the interaction, but definitely the input behaviors, are happening on the table top – flat, downward. Fingers and arms are outstretched for all, with the position of waiting to type for some, and a consistent tapping away for others.

In the situation proposed by the design, a glass-like surface looks normal until the computer is placed on top of it. A screen shows on the table asking if the person wants to use it as a screen. Likely, there would be some kind of authentication and terms of service notice on the screen after that. Then the computer boots and the table as a display comes to life. Ideally, or at least proposed in this design study, there would be no paper getting in the way of manipulating items on the screen. I’m not sure that would pass where I am right now.

If this happens, what becomes of the computing metaphor of the tablet for this specific use case? There are a few iPad here, including my own. They have this combined input and reading function. The rest of the table is not being used. So you have this extra space, mostly taken up by a cup of coffee, or maybe a mobile such as in my case.

With some of us here with mobiles, they serve as a second, or even immediate communications, screen. For example, my mobile is beside my iPad with the Symbian Twitter app Different Tack opened to my timeline. Because of the UI of this application, I am able to see at a glance, but also use my finger to navigate the space of the screen to view more updates there. This behavior and positioning has become something that I’ve begun to favor a good deal in these environments. The mobile gets attention, but is a window that I can choose to interact with with little moving of my eyes from the iPad.

The gentleman with the newspaper actually shows the best case approach. A reading (and interface if he is doing Sudoku) device that expands to the entire surface area of the available table, and then by grabbing and pushing, he draws the right panes into his primary view. Problem is, we don’t have devices that transform like this. And the Yanko Design concept seems to want to address this upon a glass surface. In this coffeeshop, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Even on the table I am sitting at, there are marks from cups that sweated and stains from smaller spills. For this to work, we would all have to adapt the practice of pitching in to clean up (I am sure some folks wouldn’t mind, would add to the atmosphere I think).

But it does beg the question. If devices could project into a surface like this, would tablets be as needed? Possibly. I can already hear the qualms about privacy, and if it would be possible that someone could hack your table, similar to the way ATM machines are hacked. There is that funof tapping on a screen, which I will admit that is never fun on the iPad for long pieces like this. I would rather be using Swype, or at least have some kind of “link to my Bluetooth headset for voice transcription” kind of method.

It would provide a means for places to differentiate. Were this might be a bit much for a Starbucks in some neighborhoods, having these kinds of tables could invite a specific kind of customers and create opportunity for collaboration as it would become a shared workspace. I could see this for bedroom computing. In that case, your nightstand would have one side panel showing your clock and alarm, and maybe the top of it showing your calendar or notices if it senses you have also put glasses, a wallet, or something else on the surface.

But back to the analogy of using this at a coffeeshop, since that is where I am. I have only been typing this post, and already I want to pull the device back and get into a more relaxed condition. So, at least in my case, the table top works for a while, but then when the connection is done, or I am weary, I pull the mobile away and towards my face for more intimate viewing. That works. And the table doesn’t retain any record of the transactions happening on my mobile.

Gets me thinking. Much like a scene from the TAT Future of Screens video – I am wondering what isn’t possible if the mobile is the key to enabling these experiences.

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