Apple iPad Was Conceived Nearly 40 Years Ago

The tech world is hailing the iPad as a revolutionary computing device. But its general design and specs were first outlined nearly 40 years ago, at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center think tank. Reading the paper describing the device is what one blogger calls "a spooky experience."

Kurt Bakke, in the ConceivablyTech blog, found a research paper from 38 years ago by legendary computer researcher Alan Kay of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) that describes a portable Kay dubbed the "Dynabook."

Kay described a portable, tablet PC with high resolution, a secure payment system, global information connectivity, the ability to play games, big storage capacity, and other specs that match the iPad. Amazingly enough, Kay wrote the paper in 1972, when even personal computers essentially didn't exist, must less portable ones with global connectivity. He even got the price right.

According to Bakke, here are Kay's specs for the device that closely match the iPad:

  • Combination of carry anywhere device and global information utility
  • Easy to use for any person, even children
  • Millions of potential users
  • Flat screen or plasma panel, at least 512×512 pixel resolution and a capability to display 4000 characters per screen page
  • Contrast ratio approaching that of a book
  • Keyboard with no moving parts
  • Single-chip CPU for $40 or less
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Weight less than 4 lbs
  • File storage capacity of at least 500 books or several hours of audio/music
  • Capability to maintain and edit files
  • High bandwidth wireless data connection of 300 Kb/s or higher
  • Network connection with ability to purchase, transfer and download ("instantiate") files
  • Secure payment system
  • Global information connectivity, such as libraries
  • Video game and entertainment functionality
  • Media connectivity
  • Network search feature
  • Target price of $500

There are some specs that don't match the iPad, Bakke says. Here's his list of what the Dynabook would have had that the iPad doesn't:

  • Users can write their own programs for the device
  • Battery can be recharged via a network connection
  • Data input also based on voice input
  • Cassette- / floppy-based data storage
  • Power only consumed during state changes of the display and not during viewing of content (although this technology already exists today in form of certain epaper devices)
  • Kay viewed the Dynabook as a content creation and viewing device, while the iPad is mainly a content viewing device.

So the iPad may look new, but it wasn't Apple's vision of the iPad that was groundbreaking. Instead, it was the execution.

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