Market Overview

Slideshow: The History of Tablet Computers

Slideshow: The History of Tablet Computers

Love them or hate them, tablet computers are here to stay.

With over 100 million units sold in under three years, the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad has become a cultural icon and its domestic competition has established itself as well: Words like "Kindle Fire" and "Nook" have entered the American lexicon.

However, how tablet computers progressed from utter failures to a Dot-com boom era fad and beyond is a story in and of itself.

The humble beginnings of today's tablet predecessors, such as the first e-readers and the personal digital assistant (PDA) highlights just how far we've come from the seemingly ancient monochromatic technologies of the 1990s.

Take a trip with Benzinga down memory lane and check out just how far the development of tablet computers has come.

  • Sony Data Discman (1992)

    The Dynabook nonewithstanding, the origins of the modern-day tablet computer can be traced in part to the Sony Data Discman, the 1992 precursor to the modern-day e-reader.

    Complete with a QWERTY keyboard, the Discman took CD-ROMs containing some of the first "e-books."

    The Discman featured a small grayscale LCD screen and was most often used for prerecorded encyclopedias and foreign language dictionaries. All All Data Discmans had audio and video output capabilities.

    Despite heavy efforts to market the product to college students in the U.S., the Discman had little success outside of Japan.
  • Apple Newton (1993-1998)

    Former Apple CEO John Sculley says approximately $100 million was invested in the development of the Newton, perhaps Apple's biggest flop.

    The Newton was for all intents and purposes, the first tablet computer. Its functionality included software applications like Notes, Names and Dates. It came complete with a calculator and time zone maps.

    Later versions included word processors, Internet accessibility and an email client.

    Its handwriting recognition was largely a failure -- once mocked on the Simpsons -- and the bulky device came with a price tag of $699.

    In Worst Ideas Ever, Daniel B. Kline takes on the Newton. He writes, "Some would say that the eventual rampant success of other personal digit assistants (PDA) ultimately validates the Apple Newton as a good idea. That, however, would like calling a caveman who glues feathers to his body and attempts to fly a visionary because, ultimately, someone invested the airplane."
  • Sharp Zaurus (1993-2007)

    Sharp's series of PDAs, known as the Zaurus, were extremely popular in Japan and ran on a proprietary operating system (OS) before adopting Linux.

    Pictured here is the PI-3000, the first Zaurus model, released in 1993. The Zaurus was the follow-up to Sharp's Wizard line of electronic organizers.

    Future releases in 1994 and 1995 would add e-mail, fax, Internet and mobile phone capabilities. In 1996, Sharp released the first color-screen PDA.

    The company would stay on the cutting edge of the PDA market, but never caught on outside of Japan. Running a Linux OS also complicated matters, and the final Zaurus releases in 2006 and 2007 ditched it in favor of a Windows OS.

    The Zaurus was discontinued in 2007.
  • PalmPilot 1000 and 5000 (1996)

    Palm Inc. debuted with the Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000 (pictured) in March 1996.

    With a grand total of 128 KB (Pilot 1000) and 512 KB (Pilot 5000) in memory, the original Palm featured four applications -- Date Book, Address Book, To Do List and Memo Pad.
  • Palm Pilot (1997)

    The second generation of Palm devices came a year later in 1997, with the PalmPilot Personal and PalmPilot Professional.

    Priced at $299 and $399, respectively, upgrade kits allowed old users to boost their memory up to 1 MB.
  • Palm III (1998)

    Priced at $400, the Palm III went on sale in 1998, the first Palm handheld to support infrared file transfer and a Flash ROM-capable operating system.

    Its case more rugged, the new PDA featured a new application launcher, bug fixes and 2 MB of storage. The 2-bit grayscale screen came with a backlight that allowed for reading in the dark.
  • HP Jornada (1998-2002)

    Hewlett-Packard's first attempt at a "tablet" came in the form of the Jornada line of PDAs.

    Released in 1998, the Jornada would be succeeded by the more popular iPAQ PDAs. The Jornada models ran on a Microsoft OS.

    Equipped with a 10-hour battery life and built-in miniature keyboard, the Jornada had 16 MB of RAM and 16 MB of internal storage.
  • Handspring Visor and Treo (1998-2003)

    Handspring was a producer of PDA, debuting with the Visor Solo in 1998. It was black and contained 2 MB of memory.

    A number of other Visor generations were released, with improvements ranging from new colors and expanded memory to a 16-bit screen (from 8-bit).

    All models of the Visor contained a MC68VZ328 DragonBall processor clocked at 33 MHz.

    From 2002 to 2003, Handspring switched its focus to the production of the Treo. The new class of PDA had more memory, a camera, MP3 player, Wi-Fi antenna and GPS.

    In 2003, Palm acquired Handspring.
  • Philips Nino (1999-2001)

    The Philips Nino was a device similar to the Palm PDA, featuring voice control software.

    The first two releases, the Nino 200 (pictured) and Nino 300, featured monochrome screens. The Nino 500 introduced a color display.
  • Casio Pocket Viewer (1999-2003)

    In 1999, Casio unleashed their Pocket Viewer to compete with other PDAs.

    The target market for Casio were heavy PDA users who required more computing power. Earlier models ran Intel processors, while later models used Hitachi processors.

    With an initial pricing under $200, the Pocket Viewer competed right alongside Palm products.

    The Pocket Viewer's on-board applications included Expense, PVsheet, Quickmemo, Contacts, Scheduler, ToDo list, Reminder/Calendar and Alarm.

    Internet access for Pocket Viewers was limited. The device used 2 AAA batteries and under standard use, a completely charged battery would last about two months.
  • Sony CLIÉ (2000-2005)

    Sony delved into the PDA business with their CLIÉ (pronounced "KLEE-AY") line.

    The CLIÉ ran a Palm OS and introduced several new features to the PDA market, including a jog-wheel interface, high-resolution displays and Sony technologies like Memory Stick slots and ATRAC3 audio playback.

    The model was most popular in Japan.

    Unlike other Palm OS models, the CLIÉ emphasized multimedia capabilities, including photo, video and audio playback.

    Sony ceased production of the CLIÉ in 2005.
  • Compaq/HP iPAQ (2001-2011)

    Linux Magazine touted the iPAQ 3630 PDA as a "highly promising platform" before its release in 2001.

    With 32 MB of RAM, the 3630 (pictured) was a color-screen upgrade of the original, black-and-white iPAQ release.

    In June 2003, iPAQ halted their original line of production and instead divided new models between economy buyers and business class. These devices ran on Windows.

    Compaq and after its acquisition, HP, continued production of new iPAQ models until 2011. Thanks to inroads in foreign markets, the iPAQ would become one of the most successful pocket PCs of the 2000s.
  • Toshiba e310 (2002-2003)

    First released in 2002, the Toshiba e310 ran Windows and featured a color 240x320 pixel LCD touch-screen.

    The PDA came equipped with 32MB of RAM. An upgrade for the e310 followed in 2003.
  • Dell Axim (2002-2005)

    The first pocket PC to include an Intel XScale PXA270 processor, the Dell Axim also was the first PDA to adopt Windows Mobile 2003.

    It came with 32 MB of built-in RAM.

    Later models came with Wi-Fi capabilities and higher resolution screens. The final release, the X51, came in 2005. The low-end was priced at $299, while the high-end X51 came with a $379 price tag.
  • Palm Zire (2002-2005)

    The Palm Zire and Palm Zire 21 were the first PDAs made by a major manufacturer to be sold for under $100.

    The original Zire (pictured) came with monochrome screens and no backlight, issues that were corrected in the next generation (Zire 31).

    Production was discontinued in 2005.
  • Palm Tungsten (2002-2005)

    The Tungsten E was the first PDA to run Palm OS 5, bringing the Palm line more up to date to compete with increasingly popular and powerful Sony CLIE and Windows Mobile.

    Whereas the Zire aimed at economy-class consumers, Tungsten was targeted at business users and techies.

    Models came with a 65,536 color LCD touch screen possessing a minimum 320 x 320 pixel resolution. Handhelds cost between $199 and $399.
  • LifeDrive (2005-2007)

    LifeDrive was a Palm OS-based PDA that included applications for contacts, calendar, music, images, video and applications. At the time of its 2005 release, its capacity of 4 GB was more than flash drives.

    LifeDrive featured Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, the first Palm handheld to feature both, and contained e-reader software.

    Its high price, a recall in the UK due to hazardous materials used in its production and a slow processor doomed the LifeDrive, which was discontinued in 2007.
  • Palm TX (2005-2009)

    The successor of the Tungsten T5, Palm TX featured Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, coupled with a quicker Intel processor than the LifeDrive.

    A built-in SD expansion card slot allowed for upgrades to 4 GB of memory and allotted enough room to use the Palm TX as an .mp3 player.
  • Apple iPad (2010-present)

    The iPad was the first in life of a modern generation of tablet computers, running on Apple's iOS.

    This tablet set the industry standard, allowing users to shoot video, take photos, play music and perform online functions such as web-browsing and emailing. The ability to download apps enabled other functions like games, GPS navigation and social networking.

    The standard iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, although an iPad-mini has been made available, featuring a 7.9-inch screen (to the late Steve Jobs' chagrin).

    The iPad has been the most successful tablet computer, selling more than 100 million units to-date. Depending on memory (16 GB to 128GB) and screen size, iPads range from $329 to $929.
  • HP Touchpad and Slate (2010-present)

    The Hewlett-Packard-designed HP TouchPad (pictured) debuted in July 2011. Featuring a 9.7-inch screen, it was released on a WebOS platform. Since then, use of Android OS on the TouchPad has become commonplace.

    With internal memory ranging from 16 GB to 64 GB, the TouchPad cost $299.

    An upscale HP tablet, the Slate, was debuted in late 2010, with its successor (Slate 7) released this month. The Slate will run on Android 4.1.1 Jellybean OS and will carry a price tag of $179.

    Slate 7 is designed as a price-conscious tablet. It contains 8 GB of storage and runs on 1 GB of RAM.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab (2010-present)

    The original Galaxy Tab was released in 2010, a 7-inch model running on an Android 2.2.1 Froyo OS.

    Several new models have been released, including tablets with 7.7, 8.9 and 10.1-inch displays. The newer tablets all run Android 4.0, and many of the older models feature upgrades to Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Acer Iconia (2010-present)

    Acer's first tablet computer was released in November 2010. The Iconia Tab A500 (pictured) has been upgraded to run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

    It featured a Nvidia’s Tegra 2 Processor and 1280×800 screen resolution with 1080p HDMI capacity. Like its competitors, the Iconia supports Wi-Fi connectivity. It also contains a 5 MP rear-facing camera plus an HD front-facing camera, for video chat.

    Newer models run on an AMD Fusion processor and feature a 10-inch screen.
  • Motorola Xoom (2011-present)

    An Android-based tablet, the Motorola Xoom was introduced in January 2011, the first tablet to run Android 3.0 Honeybomb OS. New models allow for an upgrade to Android 4.1.1 Jellybean.

    The 10.1-inch tablet has 32 GB of internal memory and 1 GB RAM. It features a 2 MP front-facing camera for video chatting, as well as a rear-facing 5 MP camera capable of recording 720p video.

    The Xoom has Gorilla Glass resistant coating.
  • HTC Flyer (2011)

    Complete with a 7-inch display, the Flyer (also known as the HTC EVO View 4G) was HTC's attempt at a tablet, released in May 2011.

    It ran on an Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread OS, though a version running Android 3.2.1 (Honeycomb) was released later in the year. Upgrades to Android 4.1.1 also exist.

    The HTC Flyer is unique in that it allows for pen input, as well as touch.

    Ultimately, the Flyer proved to be the first of the latest generation of tablets to fall. Production was discontinued in December 2011.
  • Barnes & Noble HD+ (2011-present)

    The Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader would evolve into an eponymous tablet computer in 2011 (pictured) before being replaced by the Barnes & Noble HD and HD+ in late 2012.

    The HD has a 7-inch screen and features two options, an 8 GB and 16 GB model, priced at $199 and $229, respectively.

    The HD+ has a 9-inch screen, with 16 GB and 32 GB models priced at $269 and $299, respectively.

    Forrester Research estimates that as of October 2012, Barnes & Noble tablets are the third bestselling at 5 million units, after Apple's iPad and Amazon's Kindle Fire. The Nook weighs 400 grams.
  • Amazon Kindle Fire (2011-present)

    Like the Nook, the Kindle Fire evolved from an e-reader, Amazon's Kindle. The 7-inch tablet currently goes for $159, with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of internal storage.

    The Kindle Fire weighs 413 grams and runs on an Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) OS.
  • Microsoft Surface (2012-present)

    Microsoft's Surface tablet comes with a 10.6-inch screen and storage capacities ranging from 16 GB to 64 GB.

    A standard 32 GB Surface starts at $499. The original ran on a Windows RT OS, but the new Surface Pro release runs on a Windows 8 OS.

    The Surface has been plagued by mixed reviews, middling sales and a number of controversies, including a lawsuit claiming that Microsoft's advertised internal storage was disingenuous as a significant proportion is taken up by the OS.
  • Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 (2012-present)

    Built in collaboration between Google and Samsung, the Nexus 10 (pictured) is a high-end tablet offering 16 GB ($399) and 32 GB ($499) models.

    Where the Nexus 7 had a 7-inch screen, the Nexus 10 has a 10-inch screen. Models contain an internal rechargeable non-removable lithium-ion polymer 9,000 mAh battery.

    The Nexus 10 runs on an Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) OS.
  • Kobo Arc Tablet (2012-present)

    The Kobo Arc is a Canadian-made 7-inch tablet computer. It runs on the Android Jellybean 4.1 OS.

    It's more lightweight than the iPad, Kindle Fire or HD at 364 grams. Prices range between $199 CAD and $299 CAD.

    Unlike the first generation of Kobo Arc, the new one has full access to Google Play.

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