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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.

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RAND Tablet

Following generalized research in the 1950s into electronic text and handwriting recognition, the RAND Corp. produced a RAND tablet in 1964. "The RAND tablet is believed to be the first such graphic device that is digital, is relatively low-cost," read a corporation research memo.

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Natural Writing

The RAND tablet measured 10 inches by 10 inches, and allowed the user to write in "a natural manner" using a stylus.??í

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Sci-Fi Future

Both Star Trek and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey featured characters using flat-screen devices to either carry out tasks or (in the case of 2001) watch video.

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High Concepts

By the 1980s, companies like Pencept and the Communication Intelligence Corp. were making inroads into tablets capable of handwriting recognition. In 1987, Apple (then Apple Computer Inc.) produced concept videos for a device called Knowledge Navigator, a folding tablet PC.

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In 1988, Wang Laboratories offered Freestyle, a "digitizing tablet" that allowed users to hand write or annotate on any computer screen, and used a stylus to drag elements around a desktop. A year later, GRiD Systems released the GRiDpad touch-screen computer.??í

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PenPoint OS

In the late 1980s, GO Corp. began working on PenPoint OS, a stylus-based operating system. By 1991, GO had introduced the OS to the public.

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Apple Newton

Also in the late 1980s, Apple started its Newton project, which bore fruit in 1993 with the launch of a device capable of handwriting recognition. Even though Apple CEO Steve Jobs would end up killing the Newton in 1997, the handheld retains a cult following.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft was also exploring touch technology, eventually releasing Windows for Pen Computing for Windows 3.1x as a sort of counterstrike on the PenPoint OS. Microsoft would continue to update the software throughout the 1990s.

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Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, Palm issued a series of PDAs (personal digital assistants) that used a stylus for various tasks. In 2009, a revitalized Palm launched the Palm Pre, a touch-screen commercial smartphone that, despite some critical praise, bombed in the marketplace.

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Gates Predicts the Future

Speaking at COMDEX in November 2001, Microsoft's Bill Gates showed off prototypes of a tablet PC and predicted the form factor would become immensely popular within five years. The size of a legal pad, the device ran Windows XP. Prototypes were built by Acer, Compaq, Fujitsu and Toshiba.

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Windows XP Tablet Edition

Microsoft upgraded its stylus-based input software with Windows XP Tablet PC edition, originally released in 2002, with a service pack upgrade in 2005.

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Limited Use

Over the next few years, tablet PCs became a tool within niche industries such as health care, but were unable to break into the commercial mainstream.

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iPhone and iPod Touch

Apple released the first iPhone in the summer of 2007, in the process demonstrating (in a handheld way) how touch-screens could serve both consumers and business users in a variety of ways. The company soon followed the iPhone with the iPod Touch.

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In 2010, Apple released the iPad, a tablet PC running iOS. It proved a massive hit, attracting consumers with its sleek design and online application store. This year, Apple released the slimmer iPad 2.

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Android Tablets

As the iPad has risen to dominate the consumer tablet market, a variety of rival manufacturers have begun producing Android-based tablets in a bid to counter Apple. In the most recent iteration, devices such as the Motorola Xoom (seen here) run the tablet-optimized Google Android 3.0 (code-named "Honeycomb").

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WebOS Tablet

Not to be outdone, Hewlett-Packard (which acquired Palm's assets for $1.2 billion in 2010) is planning to release a webOS-powered tablet, the TouchPad, this summer. HP has also released a tablet running Windows 7.

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Windows 7 Tablets

Although a handful of tablets run Windows 7, which features touch-screen functionality, Microsoft has yet to offer a substantial counter to both Apple's iPad and the growing family of Google Android devices.

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RIM PlayBook

Not to be outdone, Research In Motion is gearing up to release the PlayBook, a BlackBerry-branded 7-inch tablet aimed at both the business market and consumers.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab

While a number of initial iPad competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, embraced the 7-inch form factor (easier to hold in one hand), the newest spate of tablets (such as the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab, seen here) have embraced larger sizes.??í

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