Back in 1994 I started sporting around with the tablet computer pictured below. At the time I was on the Institutional Sales desk of S.G. Warburg on 52nd Street in NYC. So of course everyone thought I was quite the nerd. However it was made by a company we were talking to about research coverage and someone needed to try it out.
The company had these units designed by the same design firm that Apple was using and according to the CEO even some of the same people were involved in this project. The device was then manufactured by IBM. So the fit, finish and quality was quite good. The surface remains very pleasant and can be described as a kind of sueded metal overall.
The guts of the machine were pretty standard. Either a 386 or a 486 powers it and it runs Windows with all the standard elements. It also has a keyboard and a small bar that folds out in the back to allow the unit to stand as you can see in the other picture. Also shown below is the pen which was needed to work with the touch screen.
Basically when at a desk this computer functions much like a small desktop. The difference is that when you carry it around the touch screen and pen mean that many operations can be performed on the go and more easily than would be possible with a laptop.
Of course the TelePad didn’t take off and the company is gone now along with their thinly traded stock and warrants. One obvious problem at the time was the lack of wireless networking and development of the Internet. Most of the time the main application running would be Word or Excel.
The display and pen interface were also not a joy to use. The screen was not very bright. The pen wasn’t very sensitive and there was no effective handwriting recognition or even gesture support back then. So it was a novelty. If I remember correctly they were not cheap either. I bought one but was given a special price, I think I paid around $1,500 for the whole kit.
Now that this little bit of nostalgia is out of the way what does it mean for the Apple Tablet of 2010?
I’ve seen what appears to be a real set of images on what the Apple tablet will be but I’ll reserve judgement until I really know the details. One thing that I noted in the unverified images is the MacOS screen. If that’s the basis for the user interface I think it means that we still have more work to do.
Different form factors demand different, more purpose-built, interfaces. When the BlackBerry came out it had a four line display and had all the controls needed to process email effectively. Nobody wants Windows on a small device.
Apple did a separate OS for the iPhone and that has served them quite well. Of course the tablet is in the middle and combines features of a smart phone with those of a small laptop computer. Special applications like an eReader would come for free in the bargain. But the OS should be special. Combining features of the iPhone with an eReader and maybe a few other services that will be a good fit for tablet usage. Nobody is going to want to use the Adobe Creative Suite on this or even the Microsoft Office Suite. They may wish to post to a blog, make and show presentations, watch movies and videos, play games, etc. The tablet should be different, not a shrunken laptop or a big iPhone with a touchscreen.
I’m sure the device is going to be “nice” but so was the Macbook Air for which there really didn’t turn out to be a market for. My other worry is that competition will mean we may not be able to get everything we want. I’d love to see Apple and Amazon work together on this.
Like many I’m eager to see the facts which will be out soon enough. I did want to share these pictures though. The TelePad is still a very nice little computer, kind of like the Motorola Razor of 10 years ago.