For over a year now Apple and Samsung have been locked in legal disputes around the world to determine if the Galaxy Tab infringes on Apple’s design patents. However, it’s easy to see the impact that the iPad has had on tablet design, and how it’s changed the shape of a category of devices which have been around for almost 20 years.
Early development started in the late 1960s, but it was only in the 1990s that the first devices appeared. They went through a variety of designs, and none were very successful, until the 2010 iPad launch—and later devices have followed the same basic idea:
1960s: Xerox Dynabook
Xerox’s PARC division was far ahead of its time, and deserves credit for graphical word processors, a mouse-driven operating system, and much more. One such idea, which never made it to a physical product, was the Dynabook visualized by Alan Kay, which would have a keyboard attached to a screen, and take a pen input.
1987: Knowledge Navigator
A concept video by Apple imagining what life with tablets would be like—using text-to-speech, multitouch systems and a software “butler” that can use a hypertext database to help with day-to-day activities. With the launch of the iPhone 4S last year, we’re finally seeing this come true.
1992: IBM ThinkPad
IBM’s ThinkPads were planned as tablets, but in the course of development, became laptops owing to practical concerns about inputs. The first ThinkPads were a big success, and IBM turned its focus entirely to laptops.
1993: Apple Newton
The Newton includes various personal digital assistants released between 1993 and 1998. Instead of keyboards, they used handwriting recognition as part of Scully’s Knowledge Navigator vision. They were also big, bulky, and not very useful. They worked for notes, and came with a calendar and phonebook.
1993: AT&T Eo 440 Personal Communicator
The Eo was the first tablet—it worked like a PDA, but had a wireless connection, so you could save and update information on the move. But it was bigger than the Newton, and lasted just one year.
2002: Microsoft Tablet PC
Microsoft Tablet PC was the hardware specification for a pen-enabled Windows PC. Many manufacturers launched devices such as the Acer TravelMate C210, Lenovo ThinkPad X61 and the HP Compaq TC1000. They didn’t succeed, as these were usually much more expensive and less powerful than laptops.
2005: Nokia 770 Internet Tablet
One of the first “true” tablets, with wireless communications, Internet browsing and email functions, the 770 had media playback, an RSS reader and an e-book reader as well. The main problem was that it was simply too slow, with a weak CPU and not enough RAM.
2006: Vista with Pen Input
Vista, with built-in support for pen inputs, meant developers would no longer have to create programs for a separate version of Windows—a boost for the fledging tablet ecosystem.
2007: Archos 605 WiFi
The first mobile Internet device, the 605 WiFi had 4 GB of flash storage, which could be extended using an SD card. It had a built-in media player, an e-book reader and Internet browser. Probably the first tablet device that saw widespread adoption.
Before, and soon after Apple’s announcement, the iPad was not very well received—many commentators dismissed it as just a bigger iPhone, and as an underpowered laptop without a keyboard. Customers didn’t seem to care though, and the iPad was a runaway success.
2010: Galaxy Tab
Samsung launched the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, using the Android platform. The Tab also had front and rear cameras, which the first iPad lacked. The rear camera could be used for photography, while the front camera enabled video calling. While most early reviews were favourable, some felt that at 7 inches, it combined some of the worst characteristics of phones and tablets. However, the 7-inch form factor has become a standard size for tablets.
2011: Motorola Xoom
Launched just before the iPad 2, the Xoom was the first tablet to carry Google’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb interface, a version of Android designed for tablets. But while the hardware was definitely one of the most impressive for its time, the overall software experience needed improvement.
2011: HP TouchPad
The HP TouchPad was one of the few iPad competitors which seemed to really stand out—running on webOS, with wireless charging, the TouchPad OS was slick, and it had the hardware to match. However, the TouchPad didn’t get enough developer support, and didn’t have many apps to offer. Internal issues at Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, meant that the tablet was discontinued less than 50 days after it was launched—the end of one of the most exciting new devices.
2011: BlackBerry PlayBook
The 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook, running their proprietary Blackberry Tablet OS, was launched in early 2011, just after the iPad 2. While the hardware was impressive, several essential features like built-in mail and calendar support were missing, and these functions would only work when a BlackBerry phone was connected to the PlayBook via Bluetooth. The early customer response was lukewarm, and they eventually had to slash the price by over 50%—a move analysts say cost Research In Motion (RIM) nearly half a billion dollars (around Rs 2,770 crore now).
2012: Microsoft Surface
Announced this year, and expected by October, the Surface is a tablet being made by Microsoft. The Surface will also ship with innovative covers that double as keyboards, and will be one of the first devices to ship with the Windows 8 operating system.