Slate of the Union Day

Today is “Slate of the Union” day, when the two most charismatic individuals in recent American history go on stage and attempt to reclaim mantles as innovators. I’ll leave aside the fellow with lower poll numbers for now (President Obama). More eyes in the tech world will be watching as Steve Jobs makes his newest product announcement, the Apple tablet/Tabloid/iSlate thing iPad (it’s official).

Back in the late 1980s I worked for the legendary “Mayor of Silicon Valley” Tom McEnery (he was actually the mayor of San Jose), and we did many joint projects with Apple, particularly with CEO John Sculley, a great guy.

One thing Sculley proudly shared with us was a concept video of the Knowledge Navigator, an Apple vision that presaged in some ways the Web, tablets, and new human-computer interfaces:

The Knowledge Navigator concept got some things wrong (see good Wikipedia article here) … or let’s say technology developed along different lines. I have written about tablets and their role in technology before (“The So-Called Secret Courier Video” in 2009, and “Microsoft Sphere, Apple Tablet” in 2008). And I suppose one could stretch the argument and say the first tablet I owned was an Apple Newton back in the day 🙂 

When Spooks Get Slates

But my most extensive experience with tablets in an enterprise setting was in 2005, while working at the Defense Intelligence Agency. I was head of Requirements and Research, and my outfit purchased for the Agency some 50 new tablet PCs to evaluate their use within a “knowledge enterprise” like a modern intelligence agency, and their mobile information workers.  We distributed the tablets to folks in our own group (the tech side of the house) and among several analysts (the business or mission side) and wound up doing a fairly deep evaluation of the value of mobile tablet platforms in that environment.

The handwriting recognition software was superb, the form factor was compact and comfortable, and using tablet-purpose apps like OneNote was great. But there was one enormous FAIL factor for that evaluation: we had to disable the wireless modem and bluetooth within each tablet. Working within a SCIF was crippling to the vision and utility range for tablets, as mobile and wireless portals into the interconnected Internet or other networks. That failing removed the real value of a tablet in an enteprise setting – being able to carry your electronic notebook pad into a meeting down the hall, scribble your notes, annotate them with a link from the web or photo from your collection, and share everything with those in the room or around the world, wirelessly. I wound up loving the tablets but realizing that the intelligence community had a ways to go in thinking through the importance of wireless access within secure environments.

After I left the government at the end of 2007, the first Microsoft-issue computer I asked for was a tablet, and two computers later now I’m looking to buy a new multitouch Windows 7 tablet as they’ve emerged. Back in 2008, I wrote the following:

Apple: Innovator or Follower? Speaking of touch, I’ve been an avid tablet user for several years – I’ve written entire blogposts in recognized handwriting on my current Toshiba Tecra tablet – so it’s nice to see that Apple is rumored to finally be on the verge of following in line with a tablet…. If and when they ever do come out with a tablet, I’ll give it a whirl, I still like Apple.

So I’ll probably have to buy – or at least “evaluate” – Apple’s new machine iPad after today.  I’m certain that the lessons we learned at DIA will be well reflected, indeed central to the Apple device’s utility – it will enable new modes of interconnection and networked communication and collaboration, as information (“content”)  flows all around us, in whatever setting we find ourselves in at the moment, work or play (and eventually including intelligence offices with secure wireless!). 

Immersive Collaboration and Augmented Reality

But finally, let’s stretch even further. After today’s excitement dies down a bit, stay tuned for some nifty competitive advances from Microsoft in the mobile multitouch space this year as well. And for some ideas of where things are going in the collaborative space for smart information-centric enterprises, check out the Microsoft Research “Pictionaire” project, work being done with UC Berkeley researchers. It’s an interesting approach that among other innovations blends real objects with virtual objects – a unique approach to immersion and augmented reality.

The Great Innovation Race continues on all fronts 🙂

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8 Responses

  1. Lewis,

    That is another great post, thanks. Good context. I’m not in a rush to get a tablet, but when I get one I think I’ll look for one that runs with an open interface and uses open standards and runs common plug ins/applications etc. I’m not sure the iPad will run Flash, for example. I bet the Microsoft pad will run Flash/Flex/Air and a million other available packages.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard over on that, there are 100,000 apps in the Apple app store. But it it just puzzling why the iPhone cannot run flash, but iMacs can.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.



  2. Thanks Bob – good points. I was just laughing at a comment I read on Twitter about the iPad: “Apple releases big-ass iPhone that can’t make calls.” 🙂 But you’re right, it will run all the App Store apps apparently. From a Windows perspective, all existing WIndows Tablet PCs will run virtually all Windows software – so we’re talking in the millions of apps. Apple’s done a great job of popularizing thealready-existing “app store” concept but you’re right about its limitations.


  3. […] presentation of the state (as opposed to the slate, as Microsoft’s Lewis Shepherd helpfully pointed out). It too, however, has a digital bent—and, indeed, it will be much easier to find a live […]


  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by minabird: RT lewisshepherd I’ve always liked Apple’s 1988 Knowledge Navigator video – an inspiration for today’s #Apple #tablet


  5. Lewis,

    It was good to meet you and talk to you at the Princeton Open Government Workshop. I have but one question about the iPad.

    Will it run Linux? (If anyone says iPhone OS is already Linux based, I will politely point out that the base is actually a super-hacked BSD kernel.)

    Just kidding, see you at TCamp!



  6. Lewis, excellent blog. DoD and gov in general have to figure out how to deal with network security, and mobile in particular. The only useful mobile app right now is email on the blackberry while the world spins madly by with thousands of innovative ideas.


  7. […] Gov20LA is on Twitter – GovTwit – the Government Twitter Directory 3 Likes Slate of the Union Day « Shepherd’s Pi 3 Likes Apple's iPad — a broken link? (Adobe Flash Platform Blog) 3 […]


  8. […] a presentation of the state (as opposed to the slate, as Microsoft’s Lewis Shepherd helpfully pointed out). It too, however, has a digital bent — and, indeed, it will be much easier to find a live […]


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