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Believe it or not, there was life before the iPad. The notion of tablet computers in one form or another has been present in our lives for decades: from humble beginnings in science fiction, through the very first tablet computers, all the way to the iPad we know and love today. But where did the life of the touchscreen internet tablet begin and how did we get to where we are now?
In 1968, Alan Kay developed the concept of the Dynabook: a type of netbook designed primarily for children. Envisaged to contain much of the functionality that tablet PCs do today, the Dynabook was supposed to offer children a notebook (in the traditional sense), sketchbook and musical instruments all in one tablet-like computer.
For adults, the first proper portable computer is remembered by many as the Cambridge Z88, which was launched in 1987. Around the size of a sheet of A4 paper, the Z88 was a portable computer, which offered word processing, spreadsheet and database capabilities.
Apple stepped up to tablet PC stage in 1993 with the MessagePad - it's take on the 'personal digital assistant' (PDA). Apple stuck with the MessagePad and its Newton platform until 1998, seeing the product evolve through seven model types.
Microsoft released the Microsoft Tablet PC in 2002. Rather than the minimalist tablets we know today, this portable computer was envisaged as a replacement for a PC, particularly for business people who needed to spend part of their day away from their desk.
The original iPad was unleashed to the public in April 2010, although as we've seen, it was far from Apple's first foray into the 'touch tablet' world. In 1983, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said of his company's strategy:
"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 do anything and you're in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers."
Sounds like the iPad to us.
So popular was the original iPad and the promise of the many iPad apps on the market, that Apple sold more than 15 million of them before the launch of the iPad2. To put that in context, that's 75% of tablet PC sales at the end of 2010, and more than all other tablet PCs combined since the iPad's release.
Never content to rest on their laurels, Apple launched a new iPad - the iPad2 - in March 2011. Thinner and lighter than its predecessor, this iPad boasted a better processor, as well as cameras on the front and back to support FaceTime, while maintaining a battery life of 10 hours. As before, two options were available: one with iPad WiFi alone, and one with WiFi and 3G.
In March 2012, five months after Steve Jobs' death, the 3rd generation iPad was launched - and to many people's surprise, not called the iPad3, the iPad HD (one of the biggest developments of the new iPad is its Retina Display with super high resolution) or even the iPad 4G. Why? Perhaps to bring the iPad in line with the Apple products in the PC market: always simply called the MacBook Pro or iMac, for example.
So what is next for the iPad? Will it be the iPad4 that's not called the iPad4 but is still the 4th generation? Will it even be the iPad mini, designed to cater for those who want a tablet but are on a budget (much like the iPod Nano does in the MP3 player sphere)? Will it be thinner, lighter and faster? Will it have an even higher resolution and responsive screen? Will the battery life be improved? Will old iPad accessories and iPad docks fit the new model? These are all questions that remain to be answered. What is likely, however, is that the new iPad, whatever form it takes, is going to be another step in the right direction for Apple.
Other companies are becoming serious players in the tablet world, despite Apple's domination. The development of the Android tablet, or indeed numerous tablets that run on the Android platform, is stepping forward at pace, with more and more available and many which give the iPad a run for its money in one way or another. There's the Google Nexus 7 which offers plenty of power and punch but without the high-end price tag, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Tab in all its incarnations, and the ViewPad7. Plus, with the soon-to-be-launched and much anticipated Microsoft tablet - Surface - will the iPad have a fight on its hand for the title of 'PC of the future'?
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