Details of Hewlett-Packard's new WebOS tablet have leaked out, and lots of people are gazing at its shininess and digesting technical details. But one thing appears to have been missed: Suggestions say that it will be the world's first true cloud tablet.
This is how it would work: Users will store data online rather than on the device itself. We lack any specific details, which were leaked on the blog Engadget. But the device could contain the OS in its firmware and have a little local storage for the likes of browser caches, but things like photographs, videos and documents will be stored within the cloud.
The implications are mind-blowing; theoretically we'll be able to use any HP tablet to log on and access our data -- not just the one we own. Although we'll still consider it to be a personal computing device, the device itself won't contain much of our personal data; it'll merely be a dumb terminal we carry around with us. Losing it will be annoying, but not a disaster. I can't say the same for my laptop.
Usage of the cloud in this way opens up the potential for tablets becoming almost throw-away devices. It doesn't matter if, in a rush to check e-mail, you find your own tablet or somebody else's. All you need is to find any tablet; log in and your work environment will be delivered to you.
I can imagine a future scenario of tablet computers being left scattered around a workplace, or perhaps left on a reception coffee table for visitors to use. It all sounds very "Star Trek," but that's no bad thing.
Indeed, we may even reach a stage one day where tablet computers are so inexpensive and easy to manufacture that we can literally dispose of them when they wear out or we get bored of them, however quickly, and never needing to worry about "getting the data off." Switching among different models will also be a lot easier, and we'll have very little ties to any hardware vendor other than our own loyalty and tastes.
The cloud will be a liberating force in many regards, and will offer the kind of freedom from lock-in that open source has been promising since its early days.
Above all, it's only with tablet computers that the cloud makes complete sense. This is why many cloud vendors are keen to encourage tablet usage. It's no surprise that Salesforce.com was quick to release an iPad client, for example. The rise of the cloud in importance is tied to the rise of tablet (and portable) computing.
It's hard to overstate how much things are changing in the IT landscape. Desktop computers, stalwarts of the IT scene for almost 30 years, are finally being usurped. Essentially, we're almost starting again from scratch in defining the ways we work with computers. Excited? So am I.
Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.