eWEEK at 30: Tablet Sales Surge After 20 years of Development

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2014-02-27 Print this article Print

But that is how IBM actually started to develop the ThinkPad product line as early as 1990, according to Howard Delaney, a former IBM and now a Lenovo marketing executive, who related the tablet's early history in a Lenovo video posted on YouTube. Delaney was part of the team that developed the early ThinkPad product line.

The ThinkPad name was inspired, according to Delaney, by the paper note pads that could be found throughout IBM corporate offices emblazoned with the long-standing corporate motto "Think!"

The Model 2521 ThinkPad tablet debuted in April 1992, six months before the first laptop models, the 700 and the 700C, in October 1992 along with a production-model tablet, the 700T.

The Model 2521 was more of a demonstration model, but it ran the Go PenPoint operating system that supported the use of a stylus for data entry and handwriting recognition. It was succeeded by the 700T tablet, which also ran the PenPoint operating system and, according to Delaney, was among the first computers to use a lightweight magnesium case and a flash solid-state storage drive instead of a disk drive.

Compaq Computer introduced a hybrid tablet model, the TC1000, in 2002, just before the company was acquired by Hewlett-Packard. The TC1000 had a keyboard and could be used as a typical laptop. But the tablet screen was fully detachable from the keyboard, a feature that was fairly rare at the time.

Although HP continued to sell the TC1000 after the Compaq acquisition, some buyers of this model were disappointed with its performance. So HP followed up with the TC1100, which was the same basic design but included a faster Intel Celeron or an Intel Pentium M CPU.

HP continued to develop tablet models to meet demand from corporate clients who wanted tablets for specialized applications such as data entry by field service workers or for sales applications. But since the success of the iPad generated strong demands as a mobile computer for both consumers and business applications, HP offers a range of tablets that run either Microsoft Windows or Android.

Another factor that added impetus to the adoption of tablets was the introduction of ebook readers from Amazon.com and the Barnes & Noble book store chain within two years before the Apple iPad reached the market. Amazon developed the Kindle as a tool to build the market for digital books and magazines as well as a new way to access its enormous online retail site.

Amazon released the first Kindle in early November 2007 to take advantage of the Christmas holiday shopping season. But Amazon clearly underestimated the initial demand because the 8-by-5.3-inch tablet sold out within hours of its introduction and remained out of stock until late April 2008.

The company didn't make that mistake again as it has sold millions of later models, including the Kindle 2, Kindle DX, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD and Fire HDX. Investment bank Morgan Stanley has projected that Amazon will sell $5 billion in Kindle products in 2014.

The Kindle product line has certainly allowed Amazon to rapidly expand digital book sales. Amazon announced that by late 2010 digital sales had overtaken the sale of paperback books for the first time.

Barnes & Noble introduced its Nook e-reader in October 2009 with a 6-inch display and both WiFi and 3G wireless connectivity through AT&T. While the Nook helped Barnes & Noble expand ebook sales, the bookseller had to worry about ebooks cannibalizing sales at its brick-and-mortar stores.

The retailer has tried to counter this problem by allowing Nook users to read any title from Barnes & Noble's Nook Store for one hour when they visit a B&N store to connect to the in-store WiFi.

While the Nook hasn't sold as heavily as the Amazon Kindle, it has established itself as a popular tablet and e-reader.

So by the time Apple's iPad hit the market in April 2010, tablets and e-readers were already well-defined computer form factors that were strongly established in the market. But the iPad took tablet sales to a new level and encouraged more computer makers than ever to get into the market with their own models.

The iPad and the products that came before it have succeeded in establishing tablets as a viable alternative to laptops to the point of significantly cutting into PC sales. While tablets are rarely the only computer an individual will own, they are well-established as light, highly mobile computers that keep people productive and connected to the Internet wherever they go.



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