As a budding science fiction writer, aged about 14, I once posited that in the future, we might have wristwatch computers issued to us as standard by whoever (or whatever) was in charge at the time. These wristwatch computers would be part communications tool, part media device (for dissemination of news and current affairs) and part traditional watch. This was back at the dawn of mobile phones, when mobile Internet promised much, but delivered very little. It was a time when the average mobile phone display could easily be outclassed by your original Game Boy’s equivalent and a text message cost all of 10p. Ah, those were the days.
Mobile phones got more and more advanced, to the point that they almost became the multimedia devices of my youthful imagination, meanwhile, laptop computers got more and more portable as the years went on. Somewhere during these concurrent innovations, a cross pollination occurred. The Smart Phone met the laptop via a mutual acquaintance and the two technologies enjoyed a brief, yet passionate union. Nine months later, the tablet PC was born.
In all seriousness, the idea for a tablet PC had been knocking about since at least 1968, when American computer scientist Alan Kay proposed his ‘Dynabook’- a groundbreaking precursor to both the laptop computer and the tablet PC that, despite never actually being commercially available, became a blueprint for the future.
In 2002, Microsoft launched the ‘Microsoft Tablet PC’, which was made about as welcome as Boy George at a Slipknot gig and quietly forgotten about. However, when Apple launched the first iPad in 2010, a combination of cutting edge marketing, an OS that better lent itself to portable computers and the popularity of Apple’s flagship gadgets like the iPod or iPhone, made people sit up and take notice. The iPad proved the commercial viability of a tablet computer and since then, almost every electronics manufacturer in the world has released some sort of tablet.
The really fascinating thing about all this, however, is not the technology itself, but the subsequent ‘opening up’ of the computer market. Where once stodgy old Microsoft had jealously guarded the entire computer industry and relentlessly obliterated all competition (except Apple, who had survived and battled back courtesy of a trendy re-design and, dare I say it, better products), now the Microsoft-shaped hole in the tablet market proved to be a way in for ‘phone’ companies like Samsung and Motorola, as well as Internet businesses like Google and Amazon (founders of Andoid, The Google Nexus & The kindle Fire, respectively). Today, the tablet PC market is far more interesting, diverse and above all competitive than any other area of the home computer market.
Tablet PCs can run something like 100,000 apps (well, the iPad can) and these apps can be used for things as minor as watching Youtube clips, to as major as tracking the migration routes of whales in real time. With a Tablet PC you can check your emails, watch movies on the go, play music, update your Facebook status, play games, make video calls, organize your schedule or any number of other activities. Business professionals, students or retirees can use tablets; in fact, any group of people can use them (they even make early learner tablets for kids).
Tablet PCs improve with each successive generation and, amazingly, as the quality of the devices goes up, the prices seem to be coming down. With a fast-moving industry and a rapid rate of invention, yesterday’s top-level tablet is tomorrow’s ‘budget’ model. This is a fascinating time to be a gadget fan. The creation, implementation and subsequent evolution of the tablet PC has given us an exciting new market and an innovative and inspired new technology that seems somehow to be tailored to every walk of life imaginable.
With a diverse and expansive list of products which is ever growing to meet the esoteric and individual needs of its consumers, you can be sure it will continue to rise up the ranks of ‘must have’ technology until everyone has one. It really isn’t a world away from my 14-year-old predictions of ‘super watches’ that could do almost anything, brought about by night after sleepless night with nothing to occupy my fevered adolescent mind but the stories of Phillip K. Dick and a great big wad of comics. Maybe the folks at Apple were raised on a similar diet of pop literature and insomnia?
Whatever, while the whole ‘watch’ idea may have been a little bit far from the mark, but the general concept did indeed come to pass. Now where the heck are those flying cars?