The Tablet’s Long History

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Roger Fidler, from the mid-1990s

The tablet, similar to how we know it today, has a decently long history, in idea if not in physical reality. With all of this hubbub of iPads, Android tablets, and the relatively recent news that the Tribune people are developing a tablet, I thought I’d take you back in time. Not all the way back to Star Trek’s PADD device, but to something that was actually being actively developed in the mid-1990s, though it never came to fruition.

I want to take you back to 1994, and the Knight-Ridder Information Design Lab (IDL), in Boulder, Colorado. IDL was in existence from 1993 to 1995. My mom worked there, as director of administration and technology, second in command to Roger Fidler. They were developing a flat panel tablet on which to read newspapers. (I was also an intern there, but had little to no part in the tablet development.) Fidler had this vision (see his book, Mediamorphosis, for more information) that he was trying to make a reality: the reality of everyone reading their newspaper on a flat panel device. Reality didn’t cooperate, of course, since he was a couple of decades before his time. It was only recently that tablet computing really took off, with newspapers being only a part of the scene. Fidler’s original idea of a newspaper tablet likely would have also included functionality for reading books and other uses. His vision didn’t take off at the time, but I am sure that it was a huge inspiration for innovators and innovations that were still to come.

Here is a video that the IDL folks made, almost 20 years ago. It has been well-viewed since the iPad came out. My mom is the one they show sitting at the conference table near the beginning of the video, just before Fidler starts talking.

It’s interesting to see what might have been.

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