The idea for tablet computers began much earlier than most people realize. The iPad was by no means the first tablet computer; there have been tablets widely available for sale since 1989. They have ranged widely in functionality and design, but tablets are not a new thing.
As the first in a series of three blogs centering on the history of tablet computers, this blog will focus mainly on the first tablet-like devices that relied on computers for their functionality. The second and third blogs will focus on the self-contained tablets of the last few decades and the rise in popularity they are currently experiencing.
The first tablet-like computer device was created in 1964 and it was called the RAND tablet. The RAND tablet was basically a square sensor in the middle of a wooden board. It came with an attached stylus and cost $18,000. The stylus and sensor system replaced the keyboard for the computer it was attached to and software was developed to make the RAND tablet recognize handwriting.
In 1979, Apple released the Graphics Tablet to assist artists and designers with creating electronic art. The tablet and attached stylus made drawing and uploading pictures much easier. It was not a popular device, despite being much cheaper than its contemporaries.
For a while after that, there were mostly only small developments until the late 1980s when GRiD Systems released the GRiDPad 1910. This was the first self-contained tablet computer. It did not require connection to a computer and was portable, though heavy. It came with 2MB memory, a 20MB hard drive, and ran MS-DOS as its operating system. It still required a stylus for use and had a monochromatic screen display, but the GRiDPad was revolutionary for its time.
One popular tablet adaptation was the convertible laptop, which could be either a laptop or a tablet. Usually, this meant the screen pivoted on a hinge in the middle so that users could turn it around and set it on top of the keyboard. Constant wear on the hinge caused these convertible laptops to require computer repair much sooner than other laptops. These were thick and heavy, but they had far more processing power than the ‘pure’ tablets of that time.
The early 1990s saw the release of a few other tablet computers, but they were never as popular as laptops. A few convertible laptops sold well, but not enough for manufacturers to continue selling them to individuals. The business lines of tablets and convertible laptops continued to sell very well throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
Tablets had a bit of a rocky start, but over time, they have increased in popularity and functionality. The problem with many early tablets was that the technology simply was not available yet in order to feasibly create a good tablet. Now that the hardware is available, it is no surprise that tablets are popular – it is a great idea to have a touch screen computer that you can take anywhere.
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