To continue our celebration of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, we've decided to resurface a few of our favorite Trek stories from the Ars archives—like this one from August 2010. Nowadays, an iPad or tablet is some ho-hum consumer electronics device. But in the late 1980s?
One interesting characteristic of Star Trek: The Next Generation—one that separated it from the original series and most of the early films—was its widespread use of smooth, flat, touch-based control panels throughout the Enterprise-D. This touch interface was also used for numerous portable devices known as PADDs, or Personal Access Display Devices. These mobile computing terminals bear a striking resemblance to Apple's iPad—a mobile computing device largely defined by its smooth, flat touchscreen interface.
To understand the thinking that led to the design of the Star Trek PADD, we spoke to some of the people involved in production of ST:TNG (as well as other Star Trek TV series and films), including Michael Okuda, Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler. All three were involved in various aspects of production art for Star Trek properties, including graphic design, set design, prop design, visual effects, art direction, and more. We also discussed their impressions of the iPad and how eerily similar it is to their vision of 24th century technology, how science fiction often influences technology, and what they believe is the future of human-machine interaction.