The evolution of the iPad

Mandi Goodier

The creation of the iPad dates back further than you might imagine. Apple has been toying with tablets since 1979 when they created the Apple Graphics tablet, but the real vision came in 1983.

In 1983 Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, told of his vision:

 

"[Our] strategy is really simple. What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes... and we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers."

 

A young Jobs and his ingenious team of designers were already looking to the future capabilities of the internet (which was absolutely around in the 80s but not at its full potential). It was some 24 years later when this goal was realised commercially in the form of the iPhone, but it seemed clear from these early beginnings that the iPad was the ultimate aim.

 

 

Bashful

Bashful, the first iPad?
Via Techblog

This is Bashful. It dates from the early 1980s. The image was discovered in the Now Frog Design archives and revealed weeks before the launch of the first iPad in 2010. 

Now Frog Designs was approached by Steve Jobs to design prototypes. One such design was this—what looks like an early imagining of an iPad. 

It's characteristic of Apple's slimmed down approach to design; cutting out the unnecessary. It features space for a floppy-disk, a detachable mini-keyboard (not too dissimilar to the current Microsoft Surface) and touch screen controlled with a stylish stylus. The system would have operated on Apple DOS 3.3 as a part of the IIe computer models—if it would have ever gone to market.

 

 

Siri, is that you?

In 1987, Apple made a series of concept videos depicting an iPad-like computer featuring a talking head known as the Knowledge Navigator. The videos were set in the then future: September 2011. Fast forward 24 years and Siri was launched on 4 October 2011. Okay, so they were a month off, but they knew almost exactly where they wanted to be by this time.

 

 

PADD

Sure, this isn't an Apple product, but Star Trek: The Next Generation gave a fairly accurate peek into the future. As with many science fiction television, film and books, writers and set designers all have a keen eye on emerging technologies. 

This particular series of Star Trek, which ran from 1987–1994, saw the introduction of flat surfaces and touch screen capabilities, and everyone carried a PADD, that is a Personal Access Display Device. It looks like an iPad, it even sounds like an iPad.

So who inspired who?

Watching the above clip from the early 90s, it's difficult to tell. But in an interview with Ars Technica, Michael Okuda and Doug Drexler, who were production designers on the show, indicated that flat surfaces and strong graphics were cheaper to produce than fidgety knobs—so that explains the control panel, but what about the PADD?

Well, in some respects the designers took a similar approach to their props as Apple, as Michael Okuda explains, "We realised that with the networking capabilities we had postulated for the ship, and given the [hypothetical] flexibility of the software, you should be able to fly the ship from the PADD." Doug Drexler added, "Nothing compares to the almost alive interface of the iPad... There are a lot of things that are very easy to do in a prop, but actually very difficult to do in reality."

 

 

PenLite

 

Apple PenLite
Via Wiki

Yet another attempt at a tablet that never quite made it*. The PenLite prototype was created in 1992, around the same time as the Newton MessagePad (see the next in the list), but was set to differentiate itself from it's personal digital assistant (PDA) counterpart—this thing was set to be an all singing, all dancing Macintosh computer in tablet form.

It was developed as a part of series of small notebook computers known as PowerBook Duo. The series had a focus on the reduction of size of its machines which allowed for Apple to be more playful with their approach to design. 

Apple decided not to market this product due to the popularity (and percieved similarity) of the next item.

 

 

Newton MessagePad

Newton MessagePad
Via Wiki

There it is, the first appearance of the word 'Pad' in an Apple product. 

Essentially, MessagePad was a personal digital assistant (PDA) that boasted touchscreen technology, handwriting recognition, and yet another early appearance of Siri—under the guise of 'Newton Assistant'. This was a text-based assistant; by tapping out your command, the computer could print a document, send a fax or make an appointment.

Apple announced their product and its capabilities, spurring numerous competitors to produce PDAs that matched and bettered the MessagePad. Consequently, they were forced to rush into production and the product was full of promises it failed to deliver on. 

It proved to be a huge financial loss for the company and they discontinued the PDA in 1997. But it would be silly to view the MessagePad as a failure when its innovation and vision can be seen in these early concept sketches, as photographed for Wired magazine.

Concepts for MessagePad
Via Wired

 

 

iPod + iPhone

Steve Jobs with iPod
Via Baltimore Sun

Not a tablet as such, but this would become a landmark product for Apple. Launched in 2001, the iPod is essentially a mini-computer for music. The early versions contained a small computeresque screen which displayed nothing much more than an iTunes library. For better or worse, the iPod along with its iTunes store, changed the way people listen to and purchase music.

It was a next natural step from iPod to iPhone. Launched in 2007, the iPhone was a marriage of the growing trend towards smartphones and iPod, only it was leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors. With the iPod, Apple had dominated the music market with iTunes, the App Store would provide a similar model for purchasing apps within the iPhone. 

With its iOS operating system, Apple left competition months, if not years behind. They were the market leaders. The unstoppable popularity of the second generation iPhone, got tongues wagging about Apple's next big move. Rumours began to circulate about a tablet. 

 

iPad

iPadMini
Via Apple

Jaws dropped as the iPad was unveiled in 2010. Finally, Jobs had achieve his goal as set out in 1983. And what was truly astonishing was its price tag: $499 may sound kind of pricey, but in comparison with the Newton, which went on sale from $699 (and that was in 1992—it would amount to a whopping $1129 with inflation!).

300,000 iPads were sold on the first day it became available, and a total of 15 million had been sold by the time the second generation was launched a year later. By 2014 Apple technology was advancing so quickly, they were ready to launch the iPad 4, with twice the processing power of its predecessors.

Since its initial launch there have been six generations, although the design remains consistent (aside from slimming down) the software is getting more and more powerful with each iteration. 

 

 

* There have been many concept designs unearthed between 1983 and 1993, it seems that the iPad has always been Apple's intention. The big question is, what next?

Top image: Bloomua / Shutterstock.com