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.

Enter the handheld PC

Sony u-70
Sony U-70 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

My long-time use of handheld PDAs opened my eyes to how powerful these gadgets might be in the future. I was using them for reading ebooks — I remember Peanut Press fondly — as soon as those appeared and I envisioned even greater capability coming.

About the time I started my jkOnTheRun tech blog — eventually acquired by GigaOM and now defunct — Sony released a fantastic device in Japan that was as big an engineering feat at the time as the tc1000 had been for HP. At great expense I imported one from Japan.

The Sony U-50 crammed an entire PC into a handheld device with a 5-inch display. This thin gadget had a joystick and mouse buttons on the bezel around the screen making it possible to operate Windows totally by hand. It also used a stylus to operate the resistive touch screen, and I felt in addition to being a good ebook reader it could be a highly mobile note-taking device in my work.

The problem with that was that only Windows XP Tablet Edition supported writing on the screen. This special version of Windows only shipped on new Tablet PCs, and the Sony U-50 didn't use it. The decision by Sony to use regular Windows XP meant no good pen support.

I used my Microsoft TechNet subscription to get and install Windows XP Tablet Edition, turning the Sony U-50 into what was probably the first handheld Tablet PC. I covered that process and how well it worked on jkOnTheRun, and that caught the attention of Microsoft.

Samsung Q1
Samsung Q1 Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

This resulted in a summons to Redmond to talk about little Tablet PCs. I'm not at liberty to share the details of those conversations, but not too long after those discussions the Microsoft Origami project came to light.

I picked up one of the first Origami tablets, the Samsung Q1. This handheld device was roughly the size of a VHS video cassette — if anyone remembers those — and was an attempt to make a small tablet for the consumer market.

Microsoft put a skin on top of Windows that attempted to make the Origami tablets devices fit for media consumption. This skin didn't work very well as the hardware of that time was not that great. While the Samsung Q1 was OK, given there were no other affordable handheld PCs, its user experience fell short of what it needed to be for the consumer market.

It was impressive how the Origami tablets pushed the envelope of tablet design even though it didn't ignite the interest of the consumer market. That was soon to happen from an unexpected source.

Next: Then there was multi-touch

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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