The Personal Computer: From Tower to Tablet
May 17, 2012
I am amazed at just how much has changed since the first time I sat down at school in front of a computer: a Commodore PET with cassette memory storage. I played many games of Lunar Lander and Dungeon, but I did no real computing. Still, it was the first of many relationships I would have with computers.
My first home computer was a clunky Timex-Sinclair that proved to be quite underwhelming. I graduated to the Commodore 64, which was the first computer that I can honestly say that I loved. As time and technology progressed, I moved on to an IBM 386 clone, a Macintosh Classic II, many Intel/Windows desktops, a Compaq Laptop, and a MacBook Pro. Now, at last, I feel I've finally gotten the computer I've always wanted, a true personal computer, something right out of sci-fi: an Apple iPad.
Government, academia, and industry were a large but limited market for computers, so the idea of a personal computer was a driving force in the tech industry. The first inroad for home computers was gaming, led by Commodore and Atari. Their day in the sun was short. The IBM/Intel x86-based Personal Computer (PC) and its clones, running the Microsoft MS-DOS operating system (OS), appeared and seemed poised to crush all competition and become THE home computer.
Then in 1984, seemingly out of nowhere, came the Apple Macintosh. Here was a revolutionary OS using a desktop, icons, windows, and a strange new pointing device called the mouse. This OS was intuitive, easy to use, and didn't require memorizing lots of arcane commands like cd, dir, xcopy, etc. In my mind, this marks the first computer truly designed specifically for the non-professional home user.
Microsoft quickly responded with the Windows OS for Intel-based PCs, which became the standard hardware/OS combination. Apple floundered and lost the lead created by the Macintosh. The World Wide Web appeared on the scene in 1993, a development that probably put more computers in homes than any other. Laptop computers fell in price and became very popular. Apple released the iMac and OS X in 1998, but its return to greatness was to come from a seemingly unrelated angle, the iPod digital music player.
It soon became clear that many users did not need all the bells and whistles of a full-blown PC. They wanted to surf the web, check email, play games, listen to music, and watch videos. Laptops were power-hungry and large enough to be inconvenient. Ignoring this, early attempts at tablet computers were based on PC hardware and software and failed to catch on. Most users wanting portability stuck with laptops. The downsized, bare-bones netbook was touted as the ideal portable, personal computer. Meanwhile, personal digital assistants (PDAs) like the Palm Pilot had evolved into web-capable smartphones like the BlackBerry.
The year 2007 was a tipping point. The Kindle eBook reader was released and demonstrated that a device larger than a cell phone or iPod and smaller than a laptop could be immensely popular. Even more, unlike previous attempts at tablets, it was not PC-based. Apple released the iPhone and iPod Touch with a touchscreen interface (no physical keyboard!) and the new iOS smartphone operating system. Google quickly responded in 2008 with the Android smartphone operating system. These smartphones were full blown mobile computers with their respective App stores providing software. The only limiting factor was screen size.
All the pieces were there, and Apple took the step of combining them all into the iPad, released in 2010. Many tech types greeted the iPad with a resounding "meh, it’s just a big iPod Touch, " but with 67 million iPads sold as of April 2012, it’s clear that the market was ready for a tablet computer. Netbook sales promptly plummeted, and competitors such as the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab sprang up to offer alternatives, often at a lower price point.
- Check out these MCPL materials to help you get the most out of your tablet computer.
The iPad is now in its 3rd generation and still dominates the market, but Android tablets are expected to be strong challengers. I expect that Siri, the iPhone 4S voice-recognition virtual personal assistant will be integrated with the iPad soon. This is Star Trek-level technology, arriving well before the 24th century. I also expect that within 5-10 years, the laptop will be relegated to the same digital scrap heap as giant desktop towers, the Palm Pilot, and the late, lamented, and nearly indestructible Nokia 3310 cell phone. The only thing I see that could possibly derail the tablet is Google’s Project Glass, which will deserve a blog post of its own.
iLove my iPad,