A short history of tablets

Posted in Apps and mobile devices.

Believe it or not, tablet computers did not hit the market as glossy, razor-thin, and sleek gadgets they are today. Neither did they emerge abruptly in 2010 as iPads. There is a rich history behind them that dates back to almost five decades ago. Stay tuned as we briefly detail the history of these small PCs and the technological advancements that made them what they are today.

1972—The One Million Pixels

In 1972, Alan Kay, an American Computer scientist, came up with the concept of a tablet (named Dynabook), which he detailed in his writings that he later published. Kay envisioned a personal computing device for children that works pretty much like a PC.

The Dynabook consisted of a stylus pen and featured a thin body with a display that boasted at least a million pixels. Various computer engineers suggested parts of hardware that would work to make the idea a success. However, it was still not yet time—since even laptops had not been invented.

1989—The Brick Age

The first tablet computer debuted the market in 1989 under the name of GRidPad, a name coined from the Grid System. However, before that, there were Graphic Tablets that connected to computer workstations. These Graphic Tablets enabled the creation of different user interfaces such as animation, drawing, and graphics. They worked like today’s mouse.

GRidPad was nothing near what Dynabook detailed. They were bulky, weighing around five pounds, and the screens were far from the million-pixel benchmark Kay had set. Neither would the devices display in grayscale.

1991—The PDAs

In the early 90s, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) hit the market with a thud. Unlike the GRidPad, these computing devices had sufficient processing speed, fair graphics, and could sustain a generous amount of portfolio of applications. Companies such as Nokia, Handspring, Apple, and Palm develop an interest in PDAs, naming it a pen computing technology.

Unlike GRidPads that ran on MS-DOS, pen computing devices used PenPoint OS on IBM and other operating systems such as Apple Newton Messenger.

1994—The First True Tablet

The late 90s saw the end of the novel idea of Kay’s Image of a tablet. In 1994, Fujitsu launched the Stylistic 500-tablet that ran on an Intel processor. This tablet came with Windows 95, which also featured on its improved version, the Stylistic 1000.

However, in 2002, everything changed when Microsoft under Bill Gates introduced the Windows XP Tablet. This device ran on Comdex Technology and was to be the eye-opener into the future. Sadly, Windows XP Tablet couldn’t live up to its hype as Microsoft couldn’t integrate the keyboard-based windows OS into a 100% touchscreen device yet.

2010—The Real Deal

It was not until 2010 when Steve Job’s company Apple, introduced the iPad—a tablet computer that offered everything users wanted to see in Kay’s Dynabook. This new device ran on iOS, an operating system that allowed for the integration of easy-to-customize features, an intuitive touch screen, and the use of gestures.

Many other companies followed Apple’s footsteps, releasing re-imagined designs of the iPad, leading to saturation in the market. Later, Microsoft made up for their earlier missteps and created the touch-friendlier Windows Tablets that were convertible and worked as light laptops.


Since 2010, there haven’t been many more crucial advancements in tablet computing technology. As at early 2021, Apple, Microsoft, and Google are so far the major players in the industry. Today, you’ll find sleek devices such as the Nexus, Galaxy Tab, iPad Air, and Amazon Fire. These devices offer hundreds of millions of pixels, run a wide range of widgets, and hardly use a stylus as Kay’s envisioned. Perhaps you could say we have surpassed what Kay envisioned. Time will reveal what other advancements we can get in tablet technology in the future.