Who Invented The Tablet: Things You Should Know

Women using ipad

Tablet computers are a common sight in everyday life for most people, but few individuals know who invented the tablet and how it has changed over time to become the product we’re familiar with today. I was curious to see who was really responsible for this invention so I did a bit of research and this is what I found out.

So, who invented the tablet? The first tablets introduced to the public were likely made by a company called Pencept in the 1980s, and they were intended for more commercial applications. During this time there may have also been several devices that looked similar to early tablets being used by academic and research organizations, but Linus and the Communications Intelligence Corporation were also producing devices around this time.

It was around this time that the tablet market started to get crowded so determining who invented the tablet for sure is a difficult task given the number of products that were introduced and developed during this time. Apple is frequently credited with introducing a tablet to the public before any other companies, but Microsoft released a tablet almost ten years before Apple.

Early Tablet Devices

In 1986 many tablets came to market including the Letterbug which was developed by a startup company called Hindsight. Other prototypes were shown to the public during this time at various trade shows, but commercially available models didn't appear.

It wasn’t until 1987 that Apple started working on a tablet project and eventually released the Apple Newton in 1993. This device was the smallest one to date with only a six-inch screen and a total weight of 800 grams, but it utilized Apple’s Newton OS which was their newest operating system at the time.

Later that same year Apple decided to host a competition to challenge users to create “the personal computer of the year 2000,” and the winner was a device simply named “TABLET.” The design came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the team that designed the device included the famous Stephen Wolfram who would later go on to found Wolfram Research.

Initial tablet designs were bulky, had small screens with little or no color, and the overall devices were not easily carried around like the tablets we’re used to today. Although many companies have initially created tablet-like products, the question of who invented the tablet is more complicated than which company released one first. 

Microsoft released a tablet in 2000 that most closely resembles the tablets that we recognize today and it took many years of research and a partnership with expert firms like Xerox Palo Alto Research center to make the idea a reality.

This tablet was named the “Microsoft Tablet PC,” and it was the first licensed device to run an official version of the Windows OS. This device had a somewhat rugged design and was meant for users who needed them for business applications and fieldwork. These tablets were also used in health care applications for collecting data.

Modern Style Tablets Emerge

The new style tablets that we are accustomed to seeing around these days started with Apple's iPad which featured a sleek design that made it ultra-portable. This device was released in 2010 and is considered to be a milestone device in the history of the tablet computers given that it was WIFI enabled, capable of connecting to 3G networks, and also able to be used even when not connected to anything.

This style of tablet was perfect for users that wanted to consume media and weren’t interested in data collection, business applications, and other specialized software. This device could be used without the need for a stylus and was ideal for activities such as:

  • Email
  • Web browsing
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Reading

Apple even went as far as to release software that was Microsoft Office compatible with this device. It provided software called Pages for word processing, Keynote for creating presentations, and Numbers for making spreadsheets.

The second version of the iPad called the iPad 2 was also released with software that allowed for music composition and was called GarageBand. Along with this release, there was also software named iMovie that allowed users to edit video.

Another leap came in 2011 with the release of iOS 5 which allowed users to activate their iPad and establish backups without needing to connect the device to a standalone PC. This advancement removed the one final drawback to tablet-style devices that previously had required the user also to own a traditional personal computer.

Tablet Competitors Arrive

In January of 2011 the Consumer Electronics Show took place, and there were over 80 new tablet devices announced that all were direct competitors to the iPad. Although Apple had expected this for some time, the releases from more prominent companies such as Dell, Acer, Motorola, and Samsung changed the landscape of tablets for consumers.

Dell announced its tablet called the Streak Tablet, and Acer's device was merely called the Acer Tab. The announcement from Motorola revealed their equipment to be called the Xoom tablet which ran Android 3.0 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab from Samsung was running Android 2.2.

Hewlett-Packard also disclosed its device called the TouchPad which was running the Web OS system. It was listed for sale in July but was later discontinued after only 49 days on the market. It was also in 2011 that Amazon announced they would also be releasing a tablet called the Kindle Fire.

The Kindle Fire was a smaller tablet with a 7-inch screen, but it came connected to Amazon's Kindle service for eBooks and their other Amazon services including the Amazon Appstore. Amazon offered customers access to videos, music, and an extensive library of other digital content and the Kindle Fire was a low-cost option at the time.

Amazon's Kindle Fire is still available today, and many sales mean that users can get this table at a bargain price compared to some of the other products currently available. With it's consumer-friendly pricing, it's clear that Amazon isn't as interested in making money off of the tablet sales as they are creating income through selling content to users who use this device.

Although 2011 saw many different tablets come to market from a wide variety of companies, none of the tablets released have been able to dominate the market and become the singular go-to choice for users. It would appear that the iPad will continue to dominate as much as possible while other companies continue to discount their products in order to move inventory.

Apple, Android, And Windows Devices

In 2015 consumers were able to purchase Android tablets and phones with 4GB of ram and 64-bit processors which made this tiny device as powerful as some personal computers. Windows tablets and smartphones followed suit and the fourth version of Microsoft’s Surface Pro was released.

The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet and laptop combination product that features Skylake Intel processors and began a trend in the tablet market. Today there are many different laptops available that can function as both tablets and laptops.

In 2016 Apple also released their iPad Pro which featured a 9.7-inch display and offered the most significant amount of storage available in a tablet at 256GB. In 2017 Apple released another version of the iPad in the same size but with the lowest price tag of any of its products. This version of the iPad was meant to ensnare new tablet users and those who were first-time buyers. 

Some Tablet Statistics

It's difficult to know exactly how many tablets users there are in the world, but through sales data, we can determine roughly how many tablets have been sold in a given year by different companies. The number of tablet users in the world is estimated to be around 1.14 billion people, but the tablet trend is forecasted to decrease in the years to come.

The total number of tablets shipped during the third quarter of 2018 alone was around 36.4 million, and the total number of shipments expected in 2019 is approximately 136.8 million. It has been forecasted that the total number of tablet shipments worldwide will decrease to 122.1 million by 2023.

Currently, Europe has the most significant demand for tablets, but they are closely followed by the Asian Pacific part of the world. Tablets and many other devices are trendy in Japan, and it is expected that at least 10 million of the devices will ship to that country alone.

In 2017 it was estimated that 16.2 percent of the global population are using tablets and this number is expected to increase steadily for the next few years. Estimates put global tablet usage at 18.9 percent by 2021. 

In India, the current number of tablet users is estimated to 60.2 million users which means that approximately 17.4 percent of the people using the internet in India will be doing so on their tablet.


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