Mike Okuda and Doug Drexler On Similarities of Star Trek PADD and Apple iPad

Back when it was introduced in January, TrekMovie and others noted the similarities of Apple’s new iPad tablet and the Star Trek PADD touchscreen devices. Now Star Trek designers Mike & Denise Okuda as well as Doug Drexler are talking about the iPad/PADD connection, excerpts below.


Okudas and Drexler on the path from PADD to iPad

A new profile at Ars Technica takes a close look at "How Star Trek artists imagined the iPad 23 years ago", pointing out how a defining characteristic of Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as Deep Space Nine & Voyager) was ubiquitous portable touchscreen devices known as PADDs,  (Personal Access Display Devices), and how they resemble Apple’s iPad of today. Ars spoke to Star Trek designers Michael Okuda, Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler, who were responsible for the PADD.

"Star Trek" in Apple’s iPad demo movie

According to Mike Okuda, one of the driving forces behind the famous ‘okudagrams’ and touchscreen interfaces seen on the USS Enterprise D and PADDS was budgetary:

The initial motivation for that was in fact cost. Doing it purely as a graphic was considerably less expensive than buying electronic components. But very quickly we began to realize—as we figured out how these things would work and how someone would operate them, people would come to me and say, ‘What happens if I need to do this?’ Perhaps it was some action I hadn’t thought of, and we didn’t have a specific control for that. And I realized the proper answer to that was, ‘It’s in the software.’ All the things we needed could be software-definable.


Doug Drexler talked to Ars about how this approach created a prop that is "eerily similar" to Apple’s iPad, noting:

The PADD never had a keyboard as part of its casing, just like the iPad. Its geometry is almost exactly the same—the corner radius, the thickness, and overall rectangular shape. It’s uncanny to have a PADD that really works…The iPad is the true Star Trek dream.

This DS9 PADD could be confused for an iPad

Go to arstechnica.com for much more from the Okudas and Drexler on the development of the PADD and it’s new incarnation as a real product.


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They should reference Trek on each iPad :D – Pay tribute to the original of the future!

Great article! I saw this article earlier today on Google’s Fast Flip feature. It just goes to show you that Trek has had a great influence on today’s hip and savvy technophiles.

I was thinking a little while ago that the only device that would be cooler than an iPhone or iPad would be one that responds directly to your thoughts, telepathically. Yes, that would be kind of “creepy,” as mentioned in one of the sources. But it would also be keen.

If Harlan had invented it, he would have already put in a call to his lawyer! : D

#2 Supposedly that one is on the way.

#2 & #4

Oh NO! Monsters from the ID!

they should write on iPad boxes: “Dreamt by Star Trek, Designed by Apple, Made in China”

Two nitpicks:

the TNG PADD is from DS9 – “Babel”…

This DS9 PADD is could be confused for an iPad ?!?

I do want one though … Hopefully my missus will get me one for my birthday in October!!!

Good quick amendment there! :-)

OK, let’s not go overboard with the Trek connection just because this is a Trek blog. The iPad actually reminds me more of the Newspad from 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially when I run BBC News. :) Also, touch isn’t the ideal interface for every purpose – in order to use the iPad keyboard, I must look where I’m typing, whereas I don’t need to do so with a regular keyboard. A fixed arrangement is more convenient for established scenarios which need to be repeated often and efficiently, such as the operations involved in piloting a ship.

It should be noted that Rick Sternbach designed the actual PADD prop for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And Boris is right: The iPad reminds me of the Newspad from 2001 as well as the PADD from Trek.


Everything invented after 1966 is based on something seen on Star Trek. There, I said it. Deal with it, haters!

With the recent communicator and captains log iPhone apps being officially released maybe Paramount/CBS could have the Okuda’s release a proper PADD app for the iPad. I know there’s a couple of fake apps for this out there but I’d like one from the guys that created the okudagrams!

12 – Agree. It absolutely needs to be done by someone who understands the thinking behind those interfaces. I’d like an updated edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia in such a format.

4 and 5, LOL! “Forbidden” tech, perhaps?

9, did they establish that the newspads on “2001” were touchscreen?

BTW, I think it’s amazingly cool that Mike Okuda reads TrekMovie. Ditto for all the other Trek luminaries that have posted on this site.

On another note of realworld aspects of Trek, Dr. Stephen Hawking, who has actually appeared in person on a Trek episode, is making the news again. He has said that humanity should really get on with getting off this planet, for our own sake. Maybe he knows something we don’t know?

(Remember what they said of Einstein in “Close Encounters”? ;-) )

14 – You can see a Newspad here:


The LCARS interface is obviously closer to iPad’s touch functionality, but the manner in which a Newspad is used in 2001 is closer to one of my everyday uses of the iPad. If I recall correctly, we never saw any sort of news service on TNG, only vaguely on DS9 when Jake Sisko became involved as a reporter. Note the casual manner in which the Newspad is placed on the breakfast table – that’s what I like about the iPad, the physical flexibility compared to a notebook computer, which is just as important as its user interface.

15, thank you for the link. I have seen “2001” several times before, and I recall those scenes, though not in great detail. I did not have the time to rewatch them despite your link.

I did notice that they had a number of physical buttons at the bottom, though, unlike the iPad, which has just one (looking at the surface of the iPad only). The Newspad also seems more like a small flat panel TV than a PADD. Did we ever see the astronauts use it as a control surface?

However, you and others are right — the Newspad is in some respects similar to the iPad (or vice versa).

I think the I-PAD *looks* enough like the PADD, but needs to be much LIGHTER to truly achieve the portability we expect from the PADD. Otherwise, it feels like you’re hauling around an etch-a-sketch.

@11. confused technophile – “Everything invented after 1966 is based on something seen on Star Trek. ”

And was inwented in Russia…!

When I saw the article, I figured I must have been out of the office the day the PADD was drawn up. :)

In retrospect, the very first PADD was more akin to the iPod (though bigger), so Jonathan Ive’s got nuthin’ on me. Of course, over time, the screen real estate grew and we had maybe 5-6 or more different incarnations of the TNG-style device. But it was quite some time before devices with actual screens could be used easily. Thank goodness we have them now; just about anything is possible for information display for TV and movies with the current gadgets. We had the beginnings of the real world nipping at our heels on Voyager; how long will it be before disguising an iPad or a tablet computer needs to be truly updated to keep from “getting old”? Things to think about.

Aside from the telepathic thing I was half-joking about, some new concepts might be holographic displays that projected outward or upward from a substrate — a 3-D PADD, in other words.

Avatar’s control-room displays had something of this quality about them. As I recall, they seemed to hang in midair.

Other possibilities are holographic displays that materialize out of nothing — they’re created by conveniently nearby holo-emitters on an as-needed basis. No need to lug around any hardware at all. “Computer — PADD!” is all that would be needed, and you have one in your hand. The ultimate in virtual computing.

These advanced PADDs could take any shape needed, and be only as large as needed. Several of the could be materialized at once, and they need not have weight (they’re virtual, remember?). In fact, we seem something of this kind of display in Iron Man 2, when Stark is moving around his hands while generating display movements (e.g., during the scene when he discovers the significance of his father’s theme park design). However, a tangible thing would be preferable in that it could achieve semi-permanence, like a holographic book (at least on a holodeck), rather than disappear when the power goes out, or at least be tangible.

The telepathic possibility could also come into play, and not just in a man/machine interface. Two individuals could literally meld their ideas by moving their representations from one virtual PADD to another, or from one holodisplay to another. Also, CAD-style representations could be made tangible with the aid of the nearby holoemitters.

Finally, PADD’s could communicate directly into their users’ or viewers’ cerebral cortex, using some form of advanced synaptic wave sychronization.

Just some ideas.

^^ “Telekinetic possibilities could also come into play….”

As better stated.

I concur that the PADD does not seem that impressive.

For the last 15 years I’ve taken a laptop into high tech Clean Rooms to do work on big robots with plasma and chemical reactors, interfacing with them for diagnostics and people did so for years before that. The fact that someone in 1987 (or later) envisioned that centuries in the future the same type of equipment would have wireless communication and a better form factor isn’t as impressive to me. I am actually quite disappointed by the design and unwieldiness of TNG-era props that frequently looked like a step backwards from TOS’s ergonomics and miniaturization.

I agree that Arthur C Clarke’s view of the NewsPad was visionary both the device and it’s impact on mankind and the iPad really has far more similarity to it. I would believe if you have more powerful computing power elsewhere (on the net, in your house, etc) the iPad will lose more of it’s circuitry evolving further toward 2001’s NewsPad which is just a dummy interface with relatively little need to store or process content locally.

Well, now the whole subject of computing gadgets really dredges up the question of why (at least in Trek) there are separate devices for communications, information display, and sensing/analysis. Com badge, PADD, and tricorder. Conceptually, the tricorder and PADD really could communicate, but we never saw them do that, at least not in a deliberate actor move that I can recall. Sometime during Voyager, I designed an updated tricorder with a bigger screen, which really could have eliminated the PADD, and which probably would have raised howls. :) I can see keeping the com badge, being an iconic wardrobe piece.

Sure, a lot of hardware can be further updated and implanted and brought out as holographic displays, though it runs the risk of looking weird to audiences if there’s no actor interaction with physical devices, in the short run. Repeated use over numerous episodes, perhaps.

@12/13: I’ll throw my hat into the ring (again) in support of an LCARS iPad app from the true source. I can’t even express how much I’d love to use such a thing.

@23: It occurs to me that the human element may play a factor in just how amalgamated these devices all get. Perhaps Starfleet personnel may find it more intuitive to bring a tricorder *and* wear their communicator than to haul out their iPADD and then shuffle through their home screen to get to their Tricorder and Communicator apps. Advantage: easier and faster access to each device (tapping your badge vs. activating a handheld device, then selecting communicator function). Disadvantage: you have to know ahead of time which ones you’ll need.

@9 Boris

Was just watching 2001 again recently and had forgotten about those devices. How a “wow!” moment. I comfortable typing on my iPad without looking.

Sent from my iPad

I just assumed everyone saw this. Of course, there was only so much you could see them do on television. They were just graphics glued on to resin.

I never really understood why most of them weren’t just flat… the detailing at the bottom of many of them really would have served no purpose. I guess it was just to make them look a little more interesting… for the same reason tricorders had more and more blinkies added to them as time went on.

I’m rambling though. I always assumed they were much more holographic in nature than anything we have today… something that would be expensive to show and not much point to attempt on a small television screen. I know there were some attempts to show the main view screen as holographic. As well as dialog that described 24th century and even 23rd as being holographic.

I definitely remember the viewscreens described as holographic at least in the 24th Century. Also, when the viewscreen was turned off on the Enterprise-E in FC, we saw what appeared to be the front bulkhead, which suggests that the viewscreen itself was merely virtual.

A society as advanced as the Federation in the 24th Century should have no problem whatsoever creating three-dimensional viewing substrates or even suspended images in the manner of the Star Wars holograms (portrayed in communication scenes including dialogue such as “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” or “What is thy bidding, my master?”) In fact, people could be teleconferencing using holodeck-type means — by holoemitter, for example; you could be talking to someone who appears solidly to be in front of you, seated across the table, but who is actually light-years away. You are in fact speaking to a holographic image of him, but you can’t tell that; the illusion could be perfect. For routine purposes, of course, the image resolution or holographic solidity need not be as fine as it would be on an actual holodeck.

I’m projecting nearly 400 years in the future, and this is what it seems would be possible given the parameters posited in the Trek universe.

Tried that in DS9. It didn’t work out so well as an effect. It seemed somewhat superfluous. Sure it works in Star Wars… but so do walkers when they have the ability to fly. There really never was any point to those either. I think flat holographic viewers are effective enough… and tend to take up less room.

A very interesting article, but filled perhaps with a little too much Apple worship. I find the concept of the iPad unappealing for anything but the simplest operations, such as surfing, texting, looking at pictures and watching videos — who wants to give up half the screen real-estate to a keyboard? As soon as one gets into the more serious production endeavors, such as designing, composing, writing anything of substance — and these are the things I really care about on a computer — give me a keyboard and mouse, with a stylus and tablet on the side, please!

My aversion to ‘Apple worship’ aside… oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mac Pro with a 30″ cinema display?

I’d never given this much thought before but something about the PADDs on Trek seemed wrong to me. Some of the PADDs were so small, it was difficult to imagine the user actually having a satisfying experience while using it. I wonder why the users never “talked” to the PADDs? The ship’s computer was always there for them, so it wasn’t needed, but sometimes it seemed to me like the user might want to “ask” the PADD a question about the information being displayed.

I need to watch 2001 again.

23. Your post reminds me of how it always bugged me that Data did not have an “in built” phaser, tricorder and communicator. I mentioned this to a friend once and he suggested they could have put the phaser on the tip of Data’s tongue.

Imagine him shooting at the Borg by sticking his tongue out at them : )

It’s interesting how some of the gadgets depicted in the futuristic Star Trek universe already exist. In some ways it’s all developing much faster than expected — things like the astonishing memory capacity of the iPod Nano and (the obvious example) the global internet seem to be far ahead of their time. It makes you wonder what else will become commonplace within the next 50 years — including technology we haven’t even imagined yet.

Also, I agree that it’s great to see that people directly associated with Star Trek like Mike Okuda (and of course Bob Orci etc) actually read this website too.

Hat Rick,

“On another note of realworld aspects of Trek, Dr. Stephen Hawking, who has actually appeared in person on a Trek episode, is making the news again. He has said that humanity should really get on with getting off this planet, for our own sake. Maybe he knows something we don’t know?”

The great man has been making a number of thought-provoking statements along those lines recently — such as his famous warning that extraterrestrials may not necessarily be friendly and that humanity should therefore be extremely wary of contacting them. As you said, it makes you wonder what else he knows, although his more recent remarks are common sense in terms of “not putting all your eggs in one basket”.

@35. Jai – “It makes you wonder what else will become commonplace within the next 50 years — including technology we haven’t even imagined yet.”

Slightly off-topic, but have you ever read any of Harry Turtledove’s “Crosstime Traffic” stories? They’re parallel-universe stories set in the late 21st century. Characters talking about the technology they know “in the home timeline” refer to things like cell-phones, laptop computer, and fasartas. Turtledove cleverly NEVER gives any hint of what a “fasarta” is or does – it’s just technology WE haven’t thought up.

(Of course, that means that when whatever it is actually gets invented, he won’t be able to take credit for thinking of it first, but what the heck…)

If you click on my blog, 35, you’ll find that I’ve repeatedly posted articles questioning why the American space agency has changed its mind so many times about real human exploration of space. It’s partly because of Dr. Hawking’s statements that I have such strong beliefs about our need to expand further into the universe.

I do think that this country emphasizes trivialities far more than it should. Instead of scads of entertainment news programs, there should be documentaries that show how vast remain the frontiers of knowledge, and what greatness awaits us if we maintain a pioneering spirit.

But both the right and the left have failed us in this respect. The right tells us that we should let capitalistic imperatives determine what shows survive on television. The left tells us that science is not as important as it seems and that mankind’s technology is the cause of great harm. No wonder NASA is left to fend for itself.

This is not the future I wanted for myself or posterity — a future of scientific muddling and mere consumerist pandering. While there are great minds and great discoveries made daily in our fine laboratories and universities, and in research institutes of all kinds far and wide, we live in an era when Earth remains the primary, and apparently only, concern. From the standpoint of our species’ future in space, or perhaps our future of any kind as a species, more’s the pity, indeed.

Oh come on, how much is apple paying you to recite this crap? As far as tablet computers go, the iPad is one of the worst for its time. A HP TC1000 from 7 years ago is more powerful and more practical than a brand new iPad. It’s just getting a little old to constantly see that damn thing shoved into sight every other day on a site I go to for star trek news.

Well, why didn’t HP’s TC1000 penetrate the market the way that the iPad has, then?

The TC1000 may have been technically better, but obviously Apple has done what HP could not do, which is put the power of the iPad in the hands of the people.

I’m sure Cray and others have made supercomputers much more powerful than anything available to the consumer. But the consumer has no access to it. Neither does the consumer have access to the HP TC1000.

I’m sure there are Ferraris and Lamborghinis out there that make the latest Corvette look like Hot Wheels. But the consumer doesn’t have access to them, for various and sundry reasons. So what good are they to the average man?

Why is it necessary to disparage Apple for giving people what most people know works? The iPhone’s level of satisfaction among owners is virtually unprecedented. Even Blackberry users want the iPhone, and no other smartphone maker can claim anywhere near the level of consumer desire for their phone as the next purchase that the iPhone can claim. Apple has done something quite right in this regard, whatever the antenna or other issues that have arisen.

Further, if the only thing that Apple can claim is marketing skills, pulling the wool over the eyes of the gullible, then we should be seeing massive returns of iPads and iPhones. But the truth is the opposite — returns are astonishingly low, despite the fact that Apple Stores are ominpresent in the largest markest in America. And those that require exchange or repair are exchanged and repaired virtually without complaint on the whole.

Apple detractors think of Apple users as elitist or parochial. But given the widespread adoption of Apple iPad and iPhone products, I ask whether it is the detractors who are elitist, in placing mere technology over what obviously works for the majority of the great unwashed.

Wonder if the iPad could run Linux…

(well, it probably already does, after a fashion, since Mac OSX [or whatever the iPad runs] is based on BSD/Linux)

But since the Mac interface is not configurable, wouldn’t it be neat to run a version of ubuntu that you could skin like LCARS?

Captain Dunsel.

re: #36

“but have you ever read any of Harry Turtledove’s “Crosstime Traffic” stories?”

I’m afraid not, although I’m aware of him as a successful author. His post-American Civil War “alternate history” novels seem to be particularly entertaining.

No ‘fasartas’ in those books, though, as far as I know ;)

Does anything exist like a simpler version of an ipad? that would for instance broadcast yer computer screen to the pad so you could touchscreen surf elsewhere in the house while your computer really does the processing instead of making the ipad portable self contained…

In a simple way my nintendo ds and sony psp do this…with the psp you can actually bring up your playstation 3 screen on the psp and control it in another room, play some ps style games watch some videos but not dvds…

I think I would like something like that as well as a self contained version for hotels surfing etc…

Someone, who has one, argue to me the points of why I should get one….or not get one. I’ve been thinking about it.

43. I never buy 1st generation technology. Ever. My friend had one and he loves it. I’d love one too, but I can wait. They will be so much cheaper and better in 18 months.


Hope it doesn’t take that long.

44 – Given that it’s simpler than an oversized iPhone, it’s hardly 1st generation technology.