Tablets: How did we get here?

A Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has become the first tablet to be included in the Royal Collection, but how did it get to this?

16 Nov 2012


Tech developers knew decades before the iPad that tablets were the future, the potential was obvious, but years of underwhelming and costly efforts raised questions over whether the dream would ever be realised.

Apple's game-changer managed to buck these trends and make the format sexy. The rest, as they say, is history - and now that really is the case because this week the first tablet was added to the Royal Collection to act as a Jubilee Time Capsule.


However, it was a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, not an iPad, which had the distinction of entering the collection.
Cataloguing the Queen's 60-year reign with 80,000 stories submitted by more than 37,000 people, the tablet itself represents the seismic shift in computing over the last few years.

Tab history
Although there have been devices similar to tablets used in industry for a lot longer, the roots for our current hand-held toys can be found in the 1980s - but, admittedly, it does seem a bit like comparing Lee Cattermole with Cristiano Ronaldo just because they both wear footie boots.

Amid an age of brick-sized cordless phones, big hair and ridiculously bright clothes, the Linus Write-Top was released. It was one of the first tablets to feature handwriting technology that could recognise user's scrawls and convert them into text.

After Microsoft pushed pen-based computing in the 1990s, which failed to really take off at the time, modern tablets as we know them started to take shape in the early noughties. Bill Gates' tech superpower launched Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with tablets such as the Compaq Tablet PC and touchscreen-based Paceblade Pacebook leading the charge.

These early efforts, which were later joined by a second wave including the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet and Samsung Q1, were a major step forward but some of them were blighted by low battery lives and being a bit too bulky.

iPad age
Apple also struggled to get a hugely successful tablet out there, but the massive popularity of the iPhone led to a significant change of tack - instead of transferring a traditional system into tablet form they decided to upscale their revolutionary smartphone.

This made the exotic, sleek and shiny iPad, which looked like it belonged in the hands of Data on the Enterprise, less intimidating because it was easy to use and 'fun'.
Looking back now, after two more iPads and the emergence of Android devices, the impact of the original iPad cannot be overstated, given how much it has transformed the way we access information, play games and communicate.

Looking ahead
After struggling to regain a foothold in the tablet market in recent years, Microsoft recently launched a two-strike assault with Windows 8 and Surface.

It's time for Microsoft to step up and it is rising to the occasion like one of Paul Hollywood's sticky iced fingers. Windows 8, which was launched last month, is the most significant rethink the operating system has ever seen, with the aim of bridging the gap between PCs and tablets using a new tile-based interface.

And Surface, a 10.6 inch tablet, is designed to compete directly with the iPad on the front line, differentiating itself from Apple's offering with a kickstand and colourful touchpad "where work meets play".

Time will tell whether Microsoft can have a significant impact on the tablet market once again, but the one to watch next year could be Samsung's flexible AMOLED screen technology.

Earlier this week reports suggested that the South Korean firm is entering the final stages of development for the bendy screens, which are expected to be used for smartphones and tablets. Apple is also said to be experimenting with similar technology and this could usher in the next era of tablet computing.