The famous 1979 Maxell ad with modifications by the author (an earlier use of the Petit Confort as a setting for relishing advanced technology).
After much anticipation, Apple finally unveiled its new tablet computer in San Francisco last week. Sitting back in his black Petit Confort chair, Steve Jobs demonstrated the joy of navigating the new iPad with grace and ease. Now that we are able to fully scrutinize the iPad and its capabilities online, the next stage of anticipation builds in preparation for the actual product release in late March.
Critics claim that for most people who own a computer and smartphone, the iPad seems excessive. Fans praise the iPad for its enhanced media delivery, claiming that watching a movie, playing a game, or reading an ebook will be far superior on an iPad than on a computer or smartphone. Both camps generally agree, however, that the iPad won’t be taken very seriously in terms of productivity.
Perhaps this conclusion is premature. Perhaps the iPad will not only offer a new platform for productivity, but also influence the environment in which we work.
If we reflect on technology in the workplace throughout the past 100 years, we will remember that computers began as voluminous rooms that groups of individuals could inhabit. They eventually shrank and became more dispersed, occupying a significant and permanent part of our desks. Today, computers have become so highly miniaturized and distributed that many individuals carry laptops wherever they go.
This rapid change in technology has facilitated the increasingly comfortable integration of computers into our daily lives. It has also influenced the transformation of the office environment, which has shifted over time from a heavily structured domain to a looser, more casual work setting. A more mobile and itinerant workforce must no longer be tied to an office—or even a desk—to be productive. As Steve Jobs demonstrated in San Francisco last week, all you need is a comfortable chair.
For now, critics will whine about the difficulties of on-screen typing or the lack of a mouse. However, the direct connection to content afforded by multi-touch display technology will also offer many new benefits. Typing documents or making spreadsheets on the iPad may be awkward for some at first, but in a few years (and several iPad iterations later), I wouldn’t be surprised if most people prefer doing these activities on the iPad. Even complex CADD software will eventually find a home in the tablet format.
What could this trend mean for future work environments? Will we start trading in our desks for comfy armchairs? Will we choose to hold meetings in casual, lounge-type settings rather than at traditional conference tables? In terms of work ergonomics, will we replace “sitting up” with “sitting back?”
While it is difficult to predict such changes with any accuracy, these notions are not completely far-fetched. The next revolution of personal computing is imminent, and our future workspaces will transform accordingly. Architects and designers, it’s time get out your pencils—and your sketchbook apps.