The personal ‘tablet’ computer has come a long way since its grandfather, the Psion Organizer II, was introduced in 1984. Prior to the release of the first PDAs, the idea of having a small computer that you could hold entirely in your hands must have seemed like something from a science fiction show (like Star Trek). Computers were large boxy platforms that weighed a ton and had to be plugged into your TV monitor, not something you could casually carry around like a book. The best entertainment they could offer was a game with two little lines hitting a ball back and fourth (PONG!). Music, video, and print media consumption were a long way off.
The Apple Newton was one of the first ‘personal digital assistants’ (a term not coined by John Sculley until 1992) available on the market. It cost Apple over $100 million for research and development. It featured handwriting recognition (you could write notes on the screen with the included stylus and it would—not very reliably according to most users—convert your handwriting to text) and pioneered a number of different productivity/creativity-related applications. You could send faxes right from the device, print your documents, and doodle to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, the Newton looks like a credit card machine and has a green screen.
Former Apple employee Andreas Haas, now the CEO of Modbook Pro Inc., fondly remembered the Newton pen in a recent interview about the inspiration for his MacBook Pro modification, the Modbook Pro. Modbook Inc., formerly Axiotron, was thought to be a moribund enterprise, but fortunes have changed over the past two years and the Modbook Pro might finally be released (click the link for more information on this tablet/laptop hybrid). The Newton may not have been much, but it has probably inspired more than a few during its time.