The Rise of Tablet Computing… Finally

What is it that has final­ly caused the rise of the tablet com­put­ing device?  Is it real­ly the church of Jobs?

Original Series Tablet

Cap­tain Kirk Hold­ing an Orig­i­nal Series Tablet

It’s not like this has­n’t been tried a dozen times.  The first wide­spread exam­ple in pop­u­lar cul­ture was the big black tablets that Ensigns brought to Cap­tain Kirk to sign in the orig­i­nal Star Trek series.  Star Trek def­i­nite­ly con­tin­ued devel­op­ing the con­cept through the movies and the Next Gen­er­a­tion.  The Next Gen­er­a­tion tablets even close­ly resem­ble the size and shape of many of the mod­ern gen­er­a­tion of tablets.  Notably, the Next Gen­er­a­tion tablets were even poked at with fin­gers (the orig­i­nal series had a sty­lus).  But they were props.

Palm Pilot

An Orig­i­nal Palm Pilot

The first wide­ly used tablet com­put­er was the Palm Pilot.  Wide­ly is a rel­a­tive term here.  Apple even had an abort­ed attempt at a tablet in the new­ton.  Since those ear­ly attempts, every­one from Microsoft to Intel and IBM have tak­en shots at tablets — many of which sold in lim­it­ed num­bers before fail­ing or just being ignored.

I think it has quite a bit to do with the stag­na­tion of desk­top CPU and GPU pow­er and the lack of appli­ca­tions requir­ing more pow­er to run.  What struck me when I first start­ed using my n900 is that the per­for­mance of the device was com­pa­ra­ble to the desk­top for many tasks.  It had fast local net­work­ing that bypassed the often stu­pid cell net­works, it had a fast CPU and GPU com­bi­na­tion for ren­der­ing web pages and it had enough screen res­o­lu­tion to com­pe­tent­ly ren­der web applications.

The iPhone and iPad sim­i­lar­ly present users with ade­quate proces­sor and graph­ics pow­er to do a range of chores at rough­ly desk­top speed.  This isn’t to say you’re going to run Cry­sis on them (although Quake II runs well on the n900), but that the range of nor­mal tasks (espe­cial­ly web brows­ing) run accept­ably well.

It was­n’t always this way.  Many ear­ly devices (like the palm) suf­fered with mobile web browsers that took ages to ren­der a poor fac­sim­i­le of the web page and strug­gled to load doc­u­ments into stripped down ver­sions of office appli­ca­tions.  Most­ly, these devices suf­fered from too lit­tle RAM in addi­tion to too lit­tle pow­er.  You sim­ply can’t load mod­ern web pages into appli­ca­tions lim­it­ed to a megabyte or two of RAM.

There were also tablets brought to mar­ket that were full Intel/Microsoft com­put­ers.  These devices did­n’t lake pow­er or mem­o­ry to be use­ful, but they were also not sig­nif­i­cant­ly small­er than the lap­tops being sold and thus did­n’t offer a com­pelling enough rea­son to the consumer.

To answer my ques­tion, I think Steve Jobs is bril­liant in his tim­ing and I think that he and Apple both learned much from the sales of the iPod/iPhone that went into the devel­op­ment of the iPad… but I don’t think that he’s respon­si­ble for the sud­den suc­cess of tablets — he just had the right prod­uct at the right time.  In fact, that’s real­ly the sto­ry of the recent rise of the Apple.

But the rise of the tablet is dri­ven by tech­nol­o­gy that deliv­ers suf­fi­cient pow­er in a form fac­tor that is sig­nif­i­cant­ly small­er than has been offered before.

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