man on tablet

Inspiration From the Past

In a previous post, I made the case that tech companies have a herd mentality.  You must innovate to stand out from the herd and win.  But, how?

Look to the past

What trends were flash-in-the-pans 10 years ago?  Why did they fail?  Perhaps those were the right ideas at the wrong time?  Maybe the implementation wasn’t quite right?

Take the tablet for example.  The iPad launched in 2010 and became wildly popular as a middle-ground alternative to tiny smartphones and clunky laptops.  One of the many products that separated Apple from the herd.

The first tablet

But, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet.  In 1989 there was GRiDPad.  Wikipedia calls it “the first commercially successful tablet.”  Besides being 1.4 inches thick and weighing 4.5 pounds, the GRiDPad was the same height and width as the iPad Pro, 9″ x 12″.  But that’s where the similarities ended.  GRiDPad had a low-resolution monochromatic display and a touch-screen interface that responded to a stylus, a pen-shaped tool, instead of your fingers.

The handheld organizer

In the 90s, the Palm PDA took flight.  It was a smaller version of the GRiDPad, measuring in at around 3″ x 5″ with a thickness closer to 1/2 an inch.  The PDA also relied on a stylus tool.  But added more software including a contact manager, a calendar, and a to-do list.  The Palm PDA had a huge influence on modern tablets as well as smartphones with its pocket size and builtin apps.

Microsoft tries and fails

In the early 2000s, Microsoft released Windows XP tablet edition.  Various manufacturers created devices similar in dimension to the GRiDPad with only slight improvements in weight and thickness.  Essentially, Windows XP running on a thick LCD monitor.  A bloated OS not optimized for touchscreens kept these devices from revolutionizing the computing landscape.  Check out this 2002 CNET review of the ViewSonic V1100.

Apple answers

In 2010 Apple introduces the first iPad.  The inaugural device folded the best features of the past into a thin, light-weight powerhouse.  In 2015, Apple even brought back our old friend the stylus calling it the Apple Pencil.

Why did the iPad succeed?

Flash forward to today, and iPad sales remain strong.  Much of the iPad’s success can be attributed to timing.  Three years earlier, the first iPhone came out.  Consumers were already used to swiping and pinching screens with their fingers.  Advances in chip technology allowed for a thinner and faster product than it’s predecessors.

What’s your iPad?

Apple looked to the past and saw an opportunity to revive and improve upon an old technology.  Scour your memory banks.  Flip through old tech magazines.  Talk to your friends.  Is there an old product out there waiting to be resuscitated?  What’s your iPad?

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