Decade of tablets: A personal history

Summary:The tablet landscape is better than it has ever been. Having used tablets in my work for over a decade, it's amazing to look back to see how we got to this point.

In the beginning

HP tc1100 with keyboard Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I have been using mobile technology for decades, anxiously watching for new gadgets that could be leveraged in my work life. That started with the luggable computers of old, continued with the Palm and Pocket PCs, and eventually continued with the Tablet PC when it appeared a little over a decade ago.

My journey with the Tablet PC started with a device that I believe was one of the best-engineered gadgets ever produced. The HP tc1000 was probably the first practical slate tablet that was good enough that I used it in my geophysical consulting practice for two years.

The engineering that went into the tc1000 was certainly advanced for its time. That was a time where most everyone used giant tower computers that sat on the floor. Laptops were few and far between and they were giant, heavy, expensive things. Computers meant big boxes for the most part.

Into this landscape entered the tc1000, a small slate that had the entire computer tucked inside. Less than an inch thick, the tc1000 brought pen computing to a practical state.

I used the tc1000 in my work daily, often visiting five or six offices a day, madly scribbling notes on the screen with the pen. It revolutionized my consulting practice with its ability to search my handwritten notes, thanks to applications like OneNote. Having full Windows in a slate form meant I could use Microsoft Project to manage multiple work projects, facilitating my ability to work with several clients at a time.

HP didn't just cram a full PC in the small 10-inch tablet, it did it smartly to make it all work. The computing hardware wasn't powerful, but it worked. That HP put a hard disk in the thin package was amazing. There was no such thing as flash memory or SSDs back then.

To address the short battery life due to technology of that era, HP made it possible for the user to pop out the square-ish, flat battery and put in a fresh one. I always had a charged battery in the bag and when the first one ran dry after a few hours I'd pop in the second one. This let me get through a long day in the field, an amazing feat for the early 2000's.

The accessories available for the tc1000 made the tablet great to use when pen operation was not needed. The little keyboard with its twisting hinge made it possible to use the device as a laptop replacement. Remember, laptops weren't commonplace so this was a fantastic feat. There was a desktop stand that turned the tc1000 into a desktop computer with all the peripherals needed that could be used like a small PC. The tc1000 could be laid flat for pen use in this configuration.

The tc1000 served me well but when HP released the refreshed tc1100 I bought one immediately. This was basically the same as the first model but with better hardware components. HP smartly kept the overall design the same so those great accessories for the tc1000 all worked on the tc1100.

Next: Enter the handheld PC

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, iPad, Lenovo, Samsung, Tablets


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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