What the Apple Prototype iPad Can Tell us About the Future of UltraBooks

At first glance, Apple’s original prototype iPad from the early 2000s – recently unveiled during the Intellectual Property (IP) conflict that went on across international courts – might seem as dissimilar to the snazzy new ultrabook line specified by Intel as any product can be. However, it’s interesting to note the revisions that occurred over the iPad prototype’s (approximately) 8 year life. Not only do they give an intriguing insight in to how Apple sees the future of its product line, but they also give a good indication as to some of the refinements that ultrabooks need to see, too.

First of all, there’s the height. The Apple iPad prototype (let’s call it the ‘ProtoPad’) stands at just under an inch in height – around 22mm. Intel’s recently-released specifications for ultrabooks – ultra-light laptops – include a maximum height restriction around that figure (though that is for tablet/laptop combination devices).

What can the evolution of the ProtoPad tell us? Well, first up we can see that no tablet – no tablet – is any fun if it’s any more than 18mm thick. The original iPad was criticised for its svelte bulk, and described as ‘not easy to carry’ and ‘uncomfortable to hold aloft for any period of time’. This consideration should reasonably extend to combination tablet/laptop ultrabooks as well. In tablet mode, no-one will want to use a device that’s an inch thick. If they were happy to, Apple probably would have made the ProtoPad reality sooner. But, knowing the limitations of the existent technology, they waited until battery sizes – among other components – had successfully miniaturised to a degree that they were truly portable. And even then there were complaints about the weight.

What else can we tell? Well, there’s Apple’s move in to aluminium and glass, away from the cheery white plastic of their former offering (the Macbook recently having closed its shiny white line). Apple clearly believes that the future is in high-quality, precision-crafted materials. That’s Jonny Ive’s ethos – a great designer can maximise the capabilities inherent in any given material for a specific task. It’s being echoed across the laptop market full stop – metal replaces plastic, edge-to-edge glass screens are now de rigeur. But ultrabooks – in fact, tablets of all shapes and sizes – are cleaving to plastic as a valid route to the future. They need to face up to the reality: plastic is dead. Apple knew it when they went from the first ProtoPad to the iPad. While things built of plastic are just fine so long as your interaction with them is limited to as little touch as possible, the next generation of devices need to focus on the tactile element. Most manufacturers are aware of this, and will make the rest of the transition slowly (as manufacturing for these materials comes down in cost).

So, there’s a couple of inferences to be taken from the evolution of the ProtoPad into the iPad. I’m sure we’ve barely scratched the surface – what notable features would you pick as indicative of the future for ultrabook manufacturing?

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