Making Way for the iPad: A History of Tablet PCs

The
Apple iPad whetted consumer appetite for tablet PCs, not to mention its rivals’
interest in creating touch-screens of their very own. Advertisements for every
new seven- or ten-inch device insist on talking up revolutionary or "magical"
hardware or software, spinning the impression that these devices represent the
bleeding edge of technology; that nothing quite so amazing has ever been seen
on this planet, much less made available for a hefty percentage of one’s
paycheck.

But
all technology evolves from sometimes cruder predecessors, and tablets are no
different. People have been playing with some of the technologies underlying
tablet PCs for over a century: In July 1888, for example, inventor Elisha Gray
received a U.S. patent for an electrical stylus device that captured
handwriting. According to
his original application
, this "telautograph" leveraged telegraph
technology to send a handwritten message between a sending and receiving
station.

Tablet
research necessarily accelerated after World War II, in conjunction with
advances in computing. Research into electronic text and handwriting
recognition contributed to the RAND Corporation’s RAND tablet, produced in
1964.

"The
RAND tablet is believed to be the first such graphic device that is digital
[and] is relatively low-cost," read an internal
research memo
on the project. "The development of the tablet at RAND has
been pursued as a part of research performed for the Advanced Research Projects
Agency, and is an aspect of a larger interest in the area of man-made
communication and interaction.” As originally built, prime tasks for the RAND
tablet included digitizing map information and “the study of more esoteric
applications of graphical languages for man-machine interaction." It allowed
for writing in "a natural manner" using a stylus, and measured 10 inches by 10
inches.  

Not
exactly a device intended to play Angry Birds, in other
words.

Around
this time, however, science fiction began playing with the concept of tablet computers in earnest. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, astronauts
headed to Jupiter watch video on a tablet device
.

For more, read author Nicholas Kolakowski’s eWEEK article: Apple iPad, Android Just the Latest in Tablet PCs’ Long History.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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