Apple Newton, Compaq, Early IBM ThinkPads Launched Tablet Revolution

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Apple Newton, Compaq, Early IBM ThinkPads Launched Tablet Revolution

by John Pallatto

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The Apple Newton

While there has been experimental development on tablet computers for decades, Apple can take credit for introducing the first commercial tablet PC design that was shipped in large numbers, the Apple Newton product line. Development on the Apple Newton started in 1987, and the first model, the original MessagePad—really a PDA (personal digital assistant)—was released in August 1993.

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Newton Handwriting Recognition

The Newton product line introduced breakthrough features, such as handwriting recognition and a stylus-driven graphical interface to let users write text and enter data as if they were working with a pen on paper. Further development produced larger tablet models such as the MessagePad 2100, shown here next to todays iPhone.

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Early Demise of the Newton

However, the Newtons handwriting recognition software, while innovative, was often unreliable. Ultimately the product line proved to be less profitable than Apple originally estimated. Inside Apple, it was feared that the Newton was drawing resources and executive attention away from Apples bread-and-butter Macintosh product line. The last models were discontinued by 1998. But they inspired other companies, such as Palm, HP, IBM and Compaq, to develop their own PDAs or tablets.

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The AT&T EO Communicator Experiment

The EO Communicator was a tablet that ran the PenPoint OS developed Go. The hardware was developed by Eo, which was the hardware production spin-off of Go. AT&T introduced the EO Communicator in April 1993 after acquiring a majority interest in Eo the company. But the tablet was not a success, and Eo shut down operations by the end of July 1994.

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The Compaq TC1000

The Compaq TC1000 was a hybrid tablet that included a keyboard as well as stylus. The display was fully detachable from the keyboard. Compaq introduced this tablet in 2002 shortly before the PC pioneer was bought out by HP in 2002 for $25 billion. The TC1000 ran Microsofts Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, which was also introduced in 2002.

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The HP Compaq TC1100

HP continued the development of the Compaq tablet and in 2003 introduced the HP Compaq TC1100, which was equipped with either the Intel Celeron or the faster Intel Pentium M. It also ran the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. While HP discontinued this model in 2005, the company is still developing new tablet models.

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IBM ThinkPad Tablets Take Shape

IBM became an enthusiastic supporter of the tablet concept with the advent of its iconic ThinkPad mobile computers. Big Blues first tablet was the IBM 2521 ThinkPad, which it announced in April 1992. It ran the PenPoint operating system developed by Go, which allows the use of a stylus for handwriting recognition and data entry. This image can be found at

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The ThinkPad 700T

IBM renamed the Model 2541 the ThinkPad 700T so it would conform to the naming convention of the rest of the ThinkPad PC line. The PenPoint operating system allowed the 700T to work with a stylus rather than with a keyboard or a mouse. IBM marketed these devices as data entry tablets for hospitals, health care providers and field operations workers.

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Lenovo Continues the IBM Tablet Line

Lenovo, which acquired IBMs laptop business in 2005, has continued to develop new tablet models, including the ThinkPad X201 tablet introduced in early 2010 that runs Windows 7. Lenovo designed this tablet with a keyboard and mouse rather than as a slate-type design to make it suitable to most business needs.

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Tablets Gain New Life as E-Readers

In the later 2000s, tablets found acceptance in a new niche, as e-readers, which let users carry an easy-to-use tablet device that can be loaded with gigabytes of digitized books that contain photos, images and graphics of all kinds. The success that Amazon has experienced with its Kindle e-reader has prompted other national book retailers to introduce their own e-reader designs, including the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Borders Kobo.

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Apple iPad Fires Consumer Interest in Tablets

In 2010 Apple came full circle with the tablet concept by introducing the iPad. The iPad design has inspired consumers to take another look at this long-tried PC type. But the latest highly mobile devices and operating systems, which take advantage of ubiquitous wireless connectivity and the vast universe of applications and information on the Web, may finally free tablets from their earlier prosaic identity as limited niche products.

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The OLPC XO-3 Tablet Concept

The One Laptop Per Child program, an effort to produce PC designs that cost less than $100 so they can be afforded by schools and children in developing nations, is planning to work with semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group to produce the XO-3 concept tablet. The XO-3 is an all-plastic tablet, semi-flexible device designed to be both durable and versatile.

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A Microsoft Tablet Design

The latest news emerging from Microsoft is that the software giant recently showed off a tablet prototype at the Computex computer show in Taiwan. The Microsoft design, as reported by the Engadget Website, runs Microsofts Windows Embedded Compact 7, which is apparently an embedded version of the Windows Phone 7 operating system. The photo is from Engadget.

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