In the days of "big iron" computing companies IBM, HP and DEC dominated. Then there was the era of PCs where Dell, Compaq, and Gateway had compelling price points. In geospatial, Intergraph provided an all in one solution with VAX, CLIX, and MGE. But the days of hardware relevance in geospatial have long since vanished. Any old PC will do; the computing power is there along with adequate graphics cards.
Enter "the cloud." Ah yes, the nebulous and yet undefined "geocloud." And what hardware is relevant for this new age of computing? The tablet, of course. Bypassing netbooks altogether, I am suggesting that tablets are relevant to geospatial like no other hardware in the last 20 years.
Here’s my reasoning: What is it that we really need to make maps fly off the page? Its visualization, of course. Now, it’s not exactly easy to take your desktop PC "door stop" with you to the field, nor is it likely that you’ll drag one of those huge touch screen tables either. And while very handy, your cell phone falls short of providing the big picture you really need.
Tablets are being built in many different form factors from the 9.7" iPad screen to the 7" Blackberry Playbook to the dual 7" screen Toshiba Libretto to the 12" ASUS Eee Pad. The big benefit is that they are all portable enough to carry without lugging big packs and all have network access with high resolution screens. You can whip these babies out on top of your pick up truck just like you would paper maps and not have to worry about them flying away. Such a deal?!
Tablets are Flash ready (most are!) with high resolution screens for excellent multimedia capabilities and many have built in cameras…some have two cameras! This is the hardware many in geospatial have been waiting for. You don’t even have to drag the GIS geek from the backroom to show off the pretty maps. Just throw down the "tab" in your next boardroom meeting with your VP and you’ll be promoted to be the next CLIO: chief location intelligence officer.
There is one problem. It’s the "geocloud." Just how much computing power moves to the cloud is a big question. Solutions that are platform hosts like WeoGeo and Skygone are compelling as are true solutions like Esri’s Business Analyst Online and Alteryx.
I think we’ll see a plethora of new solutions move to the cloud in 2011; I think we’ll even see Google offer image processing of satellite data online with Google Earth Engine, as an example of a "high powered" computing capability that we should expect; and I think we’ll see tablets deliver the end result of cloud-based solutions to more professionals. So, while computing power moves to the cloud (Amazon, Microsoft, whoever) and all communication becomes wireless (take your pick of carriers), tablets become the delivery mechanism to visualize geospatial information.