The tablet computer and its associated operating system began with the development of pen computing. Electrical devices with data input and output on a flat information display existed as early as 1888 with the telautograph, which used a sheet of paper as display and a pen attached to electromechanical actuators. Throughout the 20th century devices with these characteristics have been imagined and created whether as blueprints, prototypes, or commercial products. In addition to many academic and research systems, several companies released commercial products in the 1980s, with various input/output types tried out.
Fictional and prototype tablets
Tablet computers appeared in a number of works of science fiction in the second half of the 20th century; all helped to promote and disseminate the concept to a wider audience. Examples include:
Further, real-life projects either proposed or created tablet computers, such as:
- In 1968, computer scientist Alan Kay envisioned a KiddiComp; he developed and described the concept as a Dynabook in his proposal, A personal computer for children of all ages (1972), which outlines functionality similar to that supplied via a laptop computer, or (in some of its other incarnations) a tablet or slate computer, with the exception of near eternal battery life. Adults could also use a Dynabook, but the target audience was children.
- In 1979, the idea of a touchscreen tablet that could detect an external force applied to one point on the screen was patented in Japan by a team at Hitachi consisting of Masao Hotta, Yoshikazu Miyamoto, Norio Yokozawa and Yoshimitsu Oshima, who later received a US patent for their idea.
- In 1992, Atari showed developers the Stylus, later renamed ST-Pad. The ST-Pad was based on the TOS/GEM Atari ST Platform and prototyped early handwriting recognition. Shiraz Shivji's company Momentus demonstrated in the same time a failed x86 MS-DOS based Pen Computer with its own graphical user interface (GUI).
- In 1994, the European Union initiated the NewsPad project, inspired by Clarke and Kubrick's fictional work. Acorn Computers developed and delivered an ARM-based touch screen tablet computer for this program, branding it the "NewsPad"; the project ended in 1997.
- During the November 2000 COMDEX, Microsoft used the term Tablet PC to describe a prototype handheld device they were demonstrating.
- In 2001, Ericsson Mobile Communications announced an experimental product named the DelphiPad, which was developed in cooperation with the Centre for Wireless Communications in Singapore, with a touch-sensitive screen, Netscape Navigator as a web browser, and Linux as its operating system.
Following earlier tablet computer products such as the Pencept PenPad, and the CIC Handwriter, in September 1989, GRiD Systems released the first commercially successful tablet computer, the GRiDPad. All three products were based on extended versions of the MS-DOS operating system. In 1992, IBM announced (in April) and shipped to developers (in October) the 2521 ThinkPad, which ran the GO Corporation's PenPoint OS. Also based on PenPoint was AT&T's EO Personal Communicator from 1993, which ran on AT&T's own hardware, including their own AT&T Hobbit CPU. Apple Computer launched the Apple Newton personal digital assistant in 1993. It used Apple's own new Newton OS, initially running on hardware manufactured by Motorola and incorporating an ARM CPU, that Apple had specifically co-developed with Acorn Computers. The operating system and platform design were later licensed to Sharp and Digital Ocean, who went on to manufacture their own variants.
In 1996, Palm, Inc. released the first of the Palm OS based PalmPilot touch and stylus based PDA, the touch based devices initially incorporating a Motorola Dragonball (68000) CPU. Also in 1996 Fujitsu released the Stylistic 1000 tablet format PC, running Microsoft Windows 95, on a 100 MHz AMD486 DX4 CPU, with 8 MB RAM offering stylus input, with the option of connecting a conventional Keyboard and mouse. Intel announced a StrongARM processor-based touchscreen tablet computer in 1999, under the name WebPAD. It was later re-branded as the "Intel Web Tablet". In 2000, Norwegian company Screen Media AS and the German company Dosch & Amand Gmbh released the " FreePad". It was based on Linux and used the Opera browser. Internet access was provided by DECT DMAP, only available in Europe and provided up to 10Mbit/s. The device had 16 MB storage, 32 MB of RAM and x86 compatible 166 MHz "Geode"-Microcontroller by National Semiconductor. The screen was 10.4" or 12.1" and was touch sensitive. It had slots for SIM cards to enable support of television set-up box. FreePad were sold in Norway and the Middle East; but the company was dissolved in 2003.
In April 2000, Microsoft launched the Pocket PC 2000, using their touch capable Windows CE 3.0 operating system. The devices were manufactured by several manufacturers, based on a mix of: x86, MIPS, ARM, and SuperH hardware. In 2002, Microsoft attempted to define the Microsoft Tablet PC as a mobile computer for field work in business, though their devices failed, mainly due to pricing and usability decisions that limited them to their original purpose - such as the existing devices being too heavy to be held with one hand for extended periods, and having legacy applications created for desktop interfaces and not well adapted to the slate format.
Nokia had plans for an Internet tablet since before 2000. An early model was test manufactured in 2001, the Nokia M510, which was running on EPOC and featuring an Opera browser, speakers and a 10-inch 800×600 screen, but it was not released because of fears that the market was not ready for it. Nokia entered the tablet space in May 2005 with the Nokia 770 running Maemo, a Debian-based Linux distribution custom-made for their Internet tablet line. The user interface and application framework layer, named Hildon, was an early instance of a software platform for generic computing in a tablet device intended for internet consumption. But Nokia didn't commit to it as their only platform for their future mobile devices and the project competed against other in-house platforms and later replaced it with the Series 60. Nokia used the term internet tablet to refer to a portable information appliance that focused on Internet use and media consumption, in the range between a personal digital assistant (PDA) and an Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC). They made two mobile phones, the N900 that runs Maemo, and N9 that run Meego.
Before the release of iPad, Axiotron introduced an aftermarket, heavily modified Apple MacBook called Modbook, a Mac OS X-based tablet computer. The Modbook uses Apple's Inkwell for handwriting and gesture recognition, and uses digitization hardware from Wacom. To get Mac OS X to talk to the digitizer on the integrated tablet, the Modbook was supplied with a third-party driver.
Following the launch of the Ultra-mobile PC, Intel began the Mobile Internet Device initiative, which took the same hardware and combined it with a tabletized Linux configuration. Intel codeveloped the lightweight Moblin (mobile Linux) operating system following the successful launch of the Atom CPU series on netbooks. In 2010, Nokia and Intel combined the Maemo and Moblin projects to form MeeGo, a Linux-based operating system supports netbooks and tablets. The first tablet using MeeGo was the Neofonie WeTab launched September 2010 in Germany. The WeTab used an extended version of the MeeGo operating system called WeTab OS. WeTab OS adds runtimes for Android and Adobe AIR and provides a proprietary user interface optimized for the WeTab device. On September 27, 2011 the Linux Foundation announced that MeeGo would be replaced in 2012 by Tizen.
Android was the first of the 2000s-era dominating platforms for tablet computers to reach the market. In 2008, the first plans for Android-based tablets appeared. The first products were released in 2009. Among them was the Archos 5, a pocket-sized model with a 5-inch touchscreen, that was first released with a proprietary operating system and later (in 2009) released with Android 1.4. The Camangi WebStation was released in Q2 2009. The first LTE Android tablet appeared late 2009 and was made by ICD for Verizon. This unit was called the Ultra, but a version called Vega was released around the same time. Ultra had a 7-inch display while Vega's was 15 inches. Many more products followed in 2010. Several manufacturers waited for Android Honeycomb, specifically adapted for use with tablets, which debuted in February 2011.
Apple is often credited for defining a new class of consumer device with the iPad, which shaped the commercial market for tablets in the following years, and was the most successful tablet at the time of its release. iPads and competing devices were tested by the US military in 2011 and cleared for secure use in 2013. Its debut in 2010 pushed tablets into the mainstream. Samsung's Galaxy Tab and others followed, continuing the trends towards the features listed above. In March 2012, PC Magazine reported that 31% of U.S. Internet users owned a tablet, used mainly for viewing published content such as video and news. The top-selling line of devices was Apple's iPad with 100 million sold between its release in April 2010 and mid-October 2012, but iPad market share (number of units) dropped to 36% in 2013 with Android tablets climbing to 62%. Android tablet sales volume was 121 million devices, plus 52 million, between 2012 and 2013 respectively. Individual brands of Android operating system devices or compatibles follow iPad with Amazon's Kindle Fire with 7 million, and Barnes & Noble's Nook with 5 million.
The BlackBerry PlayBook was announced in September 2010 that ran the BlackBerry Tablet OS. The BlackBerry PlayBook was officially released to US and Canadian consumers on April 19, 2011. Hewlett Packard announced that the TouchPad, running WebOS 3.0 on a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, would be released in June 2011. On August 18, 2011, HP announced the discontinuation of the TouchPad, due to sluggish sales. In 2013, the Mozilla Foundation announced a prototype tablet model with Foxconn which ran on Firefox OS. Firefox OS was discontinued in 2016. The Canonical hinted that Ubuntu would be available on tablets by 2014. In February 2016 there was a commercial release of the BQ Aquaris Ubuntu tablet utilizing the Ubuntu Touch operating system. Canonical terminated support for the project due to lack of market interest on 5 April 2017 and it was then adopted by the UBports as a community project.
As of February 2014, 83% of mobile app developers were targeting tablets, but 93% of developers were targeting smartphones. By 2014 around 23% of B2B companies were said to have deployed tablets for sales-related activities, according to a survey report by Corporate Visions. The iPad held majority use in North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and most of the Americas. Android tablets were more popular in most of Asia (China and Russia an exception), Africa and Eastern Europe. In 2015 tablet sales did not increase. Apple remained the largest seller but its market share declined below 25%. Samsung vice president Gary Riding said early in 2016 that tablets were only doing well among those using them for work. Newer models were more expensive and designed for a keyboard and stylus, which reflected the changing uses. As of early 2016, Android reigned over the market with 65%. Apple took the number 2 spot with 26%, and Windows took a distant third with the remaining 9%. In 2018, out of 4.4 billion computing devices Android accounted for 2 billion, iOS for 1 billion, and the remainder were PCs, in various forms (desktop, notebook, or tablet), running various operating systems (Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, Linux, etc.).
In late 2017, the iPad Pro received the iOS 11 update, adding the ability to run multiple windows, drag and drop from one app to another, and browse a user's files.