Enterprise Mobility: From Telautograph to Apple iPad: The Tablet PC's First 123 Years

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2011-04-25 Print this article Print


In July 1888, Elisha Gray received a U.S. patent for an electrical stylus device that captures handwriting. According to the application, this "telautograph" leverages telegraph technology to send a handwritten message between a sending and receiving station.
Although Apple's iPad and its Android-based competitors dominate the consumer tablet market as the hot new things, the history of tablet PCs actually extends back decades. Since the 1950s, various manufacturers have been experimenting with electronic text, handwriting recognition, and tablets as a means for digital input. In the 1960s, television shows and movies like Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted a future where tablets were used for communication, work and entertainment. But it was the 1980s and early 1990s when tablet technology really started to take off, setting down the fundamentals of what would eventually become today's touch-screen marvels. The early 1990s saw the launch of Apple's Newton, following in the footsteps of GO Corp.'s PenPoint OS and Wang Laboratories' Freestyle "Digitizing Tablet." Palm issued the first PDAs (personal digital assistants) with stylus input. Meanwhile, Microsoft was also exploring touch technology, eventually releasing Windows for Pen Computing. Speaking at COMDEX in November 2001, Microsoft's Bill Gates showed off prototypes of a tablet PC, predicting the form factor would become immensely popular within five years. It ended up taking a little longer than that, but today tablets are widely seen as the successor to the traditional desktop or laptop and a market dominated (for the moment) by Apple's iPad and vigorously challenged by Google, Research In Motion and Hewlett-Packard. (Although a handful of tablets run Windows 7, which features touch-screen functionality, Microsoft has yet to offer a substantial counter to these consumer-market competitors.) The tablet PC's future is as fast-evolving, and exciting, as its past was eclectic.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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