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History Of Tablet PCs (PHOTOS)

Love ’em or hate ’em, tablet PCs are hot right now. But this latest development in personal computing and entertainment is nothing new, no matter how “magical” or “revolutionary” it may seem.

The latest crop of tablets–including the iPad, the JooJoo, the HP Slate (to name only a few)–springs from over two centuries of research and development, starting with Elisha Gray, whose 1888 “Telautograph” (U.S. patent No. 386,815) is believed to be the forerunner to the modern tablet.

The first tablets, as we would recognize them, didn’t come about until the late 1950s and early 1960s. These “tablets” consisted of a large computer terminal attached to a receiver pad, which accepted electrical or magnetic input from a stylus. They were extremely expensive to make and extremely heavy. Over the years, as tablets became functionally more complex, they also became more compact. The rest is history.

Yes, we’ve come a long way. See just how far by viewing our slideshow of the tablet’s evolution since the 1960s.

The RAND tablet, also called the Grafacon (for ‘Graphic Converter’) was one of the earliest tablet computers and sold for $18,000. ‘The attached stylus sensed electrical pulses relayed through a fine grid of conductors housed beneath the

The tablet officially known as the Atlas DEC PDP 15 was produced for commercial consumption by schools and technology labs. It was obsolete by 1973, as new technologies and platforms became available. The ‘typewriter’ attached to the system produced a hard copy of the tasks performed.

Despite its consumer-friendly price, this $650 peripheral for the Apple II platform wasn’t a huge success. Edible Apple writes, “Way back before programs like Photoshop roamed the earth, creating pictures on computers was far from a straightforward process. To make things a little bit easier, Apple released a Graphics Tablet in 1979 which enabled users to draw on the tablet with a wired stylus pen and transfer those creations over to their computer.”

The GridPad was one of the very first portable tablet PCs (it weighed 5 lbs, a feat for the time). The touchscreen device, priced at $2,370, reportedly inspired Jeff Hawkins to create the Palm Pilot. What happened to it? “By tablet standards, the GRiDPAD—-which was designed for businessy applications such as data collection in the field—-was well reviewed and seems to have sold reasonably well. But AST (which bought GRiD Systems from Tandy, which had acquired it in 1988) ran into trouble in the mid-1990s. When it collapsed, the GRiDPAD disappeared,” Technologizer explains.

An early tablet that ran on the PenPoint operating systems for tablets and PDAs. It cost a whopping $4,765. In 1991, the New York Times said of the gadget, “The NCR Corporation has introduced an intriguing pen-based ‘notepad’ computer that is truly ahead of its time.”

The ‘PC’ stands for ‘personal communicator’. This $1,599 portable tablet, which also ran on the PenPoint OS, came with an integrated celluar phone, a modem and fax, a hard drive, speakers and a microphone. Technologizer spills what happened: “AT&T reportedly burned through $40-$50 million to buy Go, the company that created the PenPoint pen operating system, and Eo, its hardware spinoff. After the gadget flopped, Ma Bell decided to refocus its energies on devices that packed similar functionality into a more phone-like shape–which was a visionary move considering that smartphones didn’t exist yet. But months later, in July of 1994, it just gave up.”

Apple, Inc’s first tablet. Wired writes of the device, “Released in 1993, the Newton was one of the first PDAs (personal digital assistants) on the market. Early models were bulky, expensive and bug-ridden. Apple marketed the Newton poorly, and it was widely ridiculed; a memorable Doonesbury strip by Garry Trudeau effectively doomed the device.) Later models were vastly improved, but the Newton never took off.” The Newton line was discontinued by 1998.

This super-slim portable tablet cost $1,399 when it was released.

This tablet was one of the very first to offer a color touchscreen.

Bill Gates himself debuted this Compaq tablet PC at a tech fair in 2001, predicting that tablets would dominate the PC market within five years. The device helped popularize the term ‘tablet PC.’

The tablet-like Windows Smart Display (aka Mira) was a touchscreen LCD monitor that connected to a PC via Wi-Fi. It was released in early 2003 and, without much success penetrating the market, canceled by the end of the same year.

Though attaching physical keyboards to tablet PCs had become a trend by 2005, some devices remained touchscreen-only, such as the $1,899 Motion Computing LS800 tablet device.

charges $800 for the ModBook, but the customer has to provide his/her own MacBook, bringing the price closer to $2,000. (Physical keyboard included.)

The $499 (minimum) Apple iPad is being hailed by Apple as a “magical and revolutionary” device. Reviewers have raved about the product, but its market success remains to be seen.

The HP Slate, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, is rumored to be released in June. The HP Slateboasts some features the iPad lacks, such as Flash player compatibility.

Google has announced it will release its own Tablet PC to rival the iPad, though there are few details and no set release date.

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