In the clip PeeWee just can’t figure out what the iPad is supposed to be for and ends up serving drink from it. That kind of thing was pretty common at the time. The joke was on all of us though. The iPad sold double the predicted number and has been going strong since. As I write this I’m on my fourth iPad in five years, something I just would not have thought possible in 2010. The release of the iPad caused the tablet market to explode and is probably the reason that netbook computers disappeared.
The idea of a tablet computer is actually much older than you may think. I mean, tablet computers featured in the original Star Trek series and something very much like an iPad was prominently used in the Next Generation series. This was still in the infancy of modern computing.
So let’s have a quick look at the historical highlights that have led us to the modern tablet computer that we all know and love.
The Age of Dinosaurs
OK, maybe not THAT far back in time, but prior to the 1950s the first patents that laid the groundwork for tablet computing were filed. In 1888, if you can believe it, a patent was filed for an electrical stylus to capture handwriting. Handwriting recognition? Patented in 1915. Touchscreen interfaces for writing input? 1942.
People have been thinking about this stuff for a long time.
Rise of the Machines
In the second half of the 20th century things started to pick up considerably. In the 50s we saw the first electronic tablet in the form of the Stylator, a system to recognize handwriting electronically.
In the 60s RAND corporation came up with the RAND tablet, which now has a place in the computer history museum. It was a printed circuit screen with capacitive encoders with a resolution of 100 lines per inch.
The 60s were also when the aforementioned Star Trek tablets made their debut as well as in another juggernaut of science fiction; 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the 70s we saw mockups of a device known as the Dynabook, which was in the tablet form, but just didn’t have a touchscreen. Basically it was half screen and half keyboard.
With the 80s came some actual devices that you could use. Of special interest to us is a concept device from Apple known as the “Knowledge Navigator”
Flight of the Navigator
Former Apple CEO John Sculley revealed details about the Knowledge Navigator in his book “Odyssey”. The Navigator only existed in a set of internally-made concept videos. This fictional concept showcased advanced features, some of which found their way into your iPad decades later.
In these, the Navigator has text-to-speech and recognition abilities, like a really primitive Siri. In fact, the concept included an animated “butler” character that basically does what Siri does today. Interestingly, the year that the Navigator is supposed to be set in (2011) is the same year that Siri was launched. There’s also a sort of multi-touch interface that would remind you of the iPhone or iPad, although not quite.
Don’t take my word for it though, check out the original video: