There is a wrong opinion in the web that the first tablet computer was created by Apple in 2010. It’s true that after iPad launch tablets became known everywhere, but the history of tablet computers dates back to the 60s. The first devices that looked like modern tablets were appeared on TV: Star Trek in 1966 and then 2001: A Space Odyssey. Probably this futuristic for that time devices summoned an idea of a tablet development.
Alan Kay – “father” of tablets
American scientist Alan Kay was the first to come with an idea to create a tablet. Kay is a path breaker in objective oriented programming, graphic design and just key figure in development of information technologies in H2 of 20 th century. In 1968 a little known talented engineer and programmer floated an idea to create KiddiComp tablet which would give kids an access to data storage devices. This year is considered as the date of tablet industry birth. In four years Alan shown ready concept of a tablet computer. He decided to expand the segment of potential users, adding adults along with kids. As a result, the concept was renamed into Dynabook. Dynabook can be also called ancestor of modern notebooks and e-books, as there were no strong difference between these devices. Dynabook had all elements of modern graphic interface with SmallTalk programming language on-board.
The first commercial solutions
The new interest in tablet computers was seen in mid 90s. Specifically, under the EU initiative, OMI-NewsPAD project was launched in 1994. The same year UK’s Acorn Computers created the first commercial tablet – Acorn NewsPAD within the frameworks of the international programme. The name was taken from Space Odyssey of 1968. The tablet featured 7-in touchscreen and ARM processor. However, the project failed to survive – project support and production of NewsPAD were stopped in 1997. In 1996 DEC created Lectrice, somewhere between a tablet and e-book. The device had monochrome touchscreen with stylus. Users were able to read, edit documents and browse images. DEC Lectrie became widely popular in the corporate market at the time.
If NewsPAD and DEC Lectrice had been intended a reading device for text documents and books, further models could offer wider range of functions. At the end of XX century the need for a tablet with network interface became obvious. Realizing demand for web surfing, Intel created the first tablet with internet access Intel WebPAD in the world in 1999. The device featured Intel Strong ARM processor, colour touchscreen, MP3 player and ability to connect to internet via PC.
Notably, the tablet was demonstrated, but for whatever reasons did not appeared in stores. Curiously, Intel workers called WebPAD – IPAD. Then 3Com joined the internet-tablet race with Audrey gadget. Unlike Intel device, Audrey was a commercial product and introduced a notion “internet-tablet”. It had a retractable antenna and external keyboard; internet connection was provided with modem. Audrey could play music, videos and be synchronized with two Palm OS devices.
However, the first revolutionary event in tablet industry was inauguration of Microsoft Tablet PC Edition platform in 2002. The Tablet PC became a foundation for numerous devices of the company, including Fujitsu Lifebook P1630, tablets from HP, Toshiba and ViewSonic. Tablet PC had IBM PC compatible architecture and high-res touchscreen. For Microsoft it was developed special software – Windows XP Tablet PC Edition that could use Microsoft program suite. Some companies tried to break Microsoft’s superiority in tablet market. Specifically, in 2005 Nokia launched Nokia 770 Internet Tablet with Maemo OS on-board. The key disadvantage of the tablet was small-sized display – 4.1-in, making it more similar to CPC rather than a tablet. However, Nokia shown that tablets can work on mobile OS along with desktop ones.
In late 2000s sales of PC plunged in favor of so-called post-computer devices. At first they were smatphones, but tablet boom hit the market in 2010. In late 2009 changes were coming – a new Apple device was rumored for several months. However, it was unclear the name, but obvious that the product would be significant. During the CES 2010 Tablet PC flagship was demonstrated –HP Slate PC with Windows 7 OS, announced few months before. The Slate PC tablet was lighter, compact and energy effective and cheaper device compared to the previous Microsoft Tablet PC models.
However, HP leadership was short-lived. Some days after Apple that traditionally stayed away from the international shows announced its own view of tablets – iPad. The previous success of iPhone, energy effective ARM processor, quality touchscreen without stylus, attractive design – all these factors raised their product above competitors. This was the second revolution in the tablet computer market. Later Android OS devices joined the race. Samsung Galaxy Tab launched in 2010 was among the first such devices. However, this is another story.