It initially failed to attract the desired audience, but it is believed that the recent innovations of the re-launched tablet PC would ensure its success (Search Mobile Computing, 2010).
While Apple stated that they were the first creators of tablet computers, Microsoft comes to argue the same. Thorn Holwerda (2010) however states that neither of the two it monoliths were the creator of tablet PC. "Well, no. They're both wrong. Both Microsoft and Apple were late to the game when it comes to tablet computing, and so far, neither of the two companies have been able to popularize the paradigm in any meaningful way - but boy, did they try" (Holwerda, 2010).
In understanding the history of the tablet computer, it is first necessary to differentiate between the concept of the tablet computer and the resulting final product. The concept of the tablet computer was introduced by Alan Kay and the generic name of the computer would be DynaBook. Kay developed the concept throughout the 1960s and 1970s decades. The DynaBook was designed as a tablet style, hand held computer. It would contain a hardware keyboard and a screen; the screen would be constructed using liquid crystals, a recent innovation of the days. The DynaBook was of the size of a notebook and its purpose would be that of gathering information. The creator of the concept believed that the DynaBook would be able to wirelessly connect to an information storage center and retrieve the data required by the user from the respective information center. It would also be able to play audio files or record audio messages.
The DynaBook, source: Thorn Holwerda (2010)
Aside the traditionally accepted elements of the tablet PC, namely the touch screen and the mobile shape, Kay also referred to another string of functionalities which would only be up for implementation several decades in the future. It was initially created as a product for children in order to support their educational processes. Nevertheless, it became much more as it raised new ideas and set the basis for the development and growth of the tablet computers sector.
Thorn Holwerda (2010) mentions that it cannot be believed that the DynaBook was the single concept for the tablet computer, but it nevertheless was the most popular one. Ideas of tablet computers or other specific applications have been present long before Kay developed the DynaBook concept. References to stylus usage for instance date back as far as 1888 (Holwerda, 2010). Elisha Gray's Telautograph -- the predecessor of the fax machine -- of 1888 is widely recognized as the "forerunner of the modern tablet" (Smith, 2010).
Despite early on efforts, the first tablet computers were only created during the 1950s and 1960s decades. A relevant example in this sense is constituted by the 1964 RAND, also known as Grafacon or Graphic Converter. It used a stylus which transmitted impulses through a fine grid of conductors in the drawing surface. It was sold for $18,000.
The Rand Tablet. Source: Catharine Smith, 2010
By 1972, a new tablet was created under the name of Digital Graphic. It was sold to educational institutions and to research laboratories, but due to technological advent, it soon became obsolete. The Apple Graphics Tablet was introduced in 1979 and it allowed users to draw on the surface and then have the drawings transferred on computers. Despite the consumer friendly price of $650, the device was unsuccessful and unpopular.
The Apple Graphics Tablet, Source: Catharine Smith, 2010
By the end of the 1980s decade, portable computers came to be developed. Among the very first ones was the GridPad, which weighted 5 pounds and was sold for $2,370. It was well received by both consumers as well as technicians, but the manufacturer encountered difficulties and the product was lost. Then came the 1991 NCR System 3125 which used the PenPoint operating system and which was recognized as a "computer that is truly ahead of its time" (Smith, 2010, quoting the New York Times in 1991).
Two years later, the at&T EO PC was introduced and it integrated a series of developments and improvements relative to its predecessors. It for instance integrated a cellular telephone, a modem, a fax, speakers, a microphone and a hard drive. The company then changed its direction and strived to develop smart phones, but soon enough renounced its objectives.
The at&T EO PC, Source: Catharine Smith, 2010
In 1995 a new tablet computer was released. It was the slimmest to be produced by that time. It retailed at a price of $1,399 and it was entitled the Zenith CruisePad. In 1998, the Fujitsu Stylistic 2300 was launched; it was in fact one of the very first computers to offer a color touch screen. It was lighter and more portable than most of the table PC previously created.
The Fujitsu Stylistic 2300, Source: Catharine Smith, 2010
2.3. Current Landscape
The previous section has presented the history of the tablet computers from the creation of the first concepts up until the end of the twentieth century. During the period, the trend was set and the tablet computer emerged as a product. During the first decade of the twenty first century however, the tablet computer -- already accepted -- was improved and its functionality and capabilities reached a new level. In 2001 for instance, the Compaq Tablet was introduced and popularized by Bill Gates himself, who argued that tablet PCs would come to dominate the PC market within the following five years. The next year, the Microsoft Smart Display was launched. It was able to connect to a computer through Wi-Fi, but as it was unpopular, it was removed from the market. After three years of relative silence within the market, consumers became fonder of tablet computers. The 2005 Motion Computing LS800 was as such more successful.
In 2010, the tablet PC market is dominated by two main products -- the Apple iPad and the HP Slate, with a third one being developed and prepared for launch -- the Google Android Tablet.
The Apple iPad, the HP Slate and the Google Android Tablet. Source: Catharine Smith, 2010
Apple's iPad was well received by reviewers, but its actual success remains to be assessed in the future; it is now too soon to actually conduct such a study due to the novelty of the products. The iPad retails for a price of $499 (which is minimum and can be increased based on features desired and other customer demands). The manufacturer deems the iPad as a "magical and revolutionary" device (Smith, 2010, quoting Apple Inc.).
The HP Slate has been created in such a manner that it integrates several features in which the iPad is missing, such as the compatibility with Flash player. In order to place itself as a competitor in the tablet computers market, Google has also announced the future launch of its own device, the Google Android Tablet. It is nevertheless unknown when the tablet would be launched (Smith, 2010). Today, the market for tablet computers is fierce, with manufacturers striving to capitalize on every piece of technological innovation and enhancing their efforts to increase their market shares. The competitive battle is made more intense also by the fact that consumers are becoming more open to the product and increase their demands for tablet computers. This feature is also given by the continually increasing functionalities of the tablet computers. These would be assessed throughout the following section.
3.1. Features and Functions
The features and functions of the tablet computers vary based on the specific operations and integrations of each individual manufacturer. It is as such difficult to create a generic table of the functions and features of the tablet computers. Generally however, they serve functions similar to the laptop or personal computers. Apple's iPad for instance reveals the following features:
a) Safari -- the iPad allows the user to easily browse the World Wide Web, to view portrait or landscape pages and to surf through the information using nothing more than the fingers.
b) Mail -- easy access to the email -- both for reading as well as for writing -- using the on screen integrated keyboard.
c) Photos -- photo viewing is made extremely user friendly due to the ability to access albums, view photos one by one or play them in slideshow format; all this is possible due to the integrated LED-backlit IPS display.
d) Videos -- the iPad lets the user enjoy high quality videos is a multitude of formats, such as HD movies, television shows, podcasts, music videos and so on; this is possible due to the 9.7-inch high resolution screen.
e) You Tube -- aside the fact that the screen lets the user enjoy high quality (especially in high definition format) videos from You Tube, the device also integrates a custom made You Tube application, specifically created for the iPad and which allows the user to more easily search and find videos.