When Was the iPad Really Invented?

Way back before I was even born, Alan Kay (of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) published a paper detailing a device much like Apple’s iPad. Keep in mind that back then, most people had no idea what a personal computer was, and the word “download” hadn’t been heard of. Hell, there was no Internet back then, even. Many visionaries of the time denied that “ordinary” people would ever even USE a computer. Ken Olson (founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation) said in 1977 that “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”


Kay’s paper, which was published in 1972, discusses a mythical device he called the “Dynabook.” He made a number of predictions, many of which are true of the iPad that Apple just released. In the paper, Kay states that “current trends in miniaturization and price reduction almost guarantee that many of the notions discussed will actually happen in the near future.” Even though “near” didn’t happen for about 38 years, his predictions are almost scary in how accurate they were. Here are a few of the predictions Alan Kay made nearly 40 years ago which we now see in the iPad:

  • Combination of carry anywhere device and global information utility
  • Easy to use for any person (even children) with millions of potential users
  • Flat screen or plasma panel, at least 512×512 pixel resolution and a capability to display 4000 characters per screen page
  • Keyboard with no moving parts
  • Rechargeable battery and a weight of less than four pounds
  • File storage capacity of at least 500 books or several hours of audio/music
  • Network connection with ability to purchase, transfer and download (“instantiate”) files
  • Global information connectivity
  • Entertainment and media functionality
  • Target price of $500

Wait… what? Did he really even predict the price almost to the dollar – 38 years ago? Yes, folks, he did. Can this man see into the future, or what? Even during a time when it was thought that none of us would ever find a need to touch a computer, this lone man knew in his heart of hearts that home computing would be a huge deal in the “future.”

How cool is it that we have gotten to be a part of history in the making?

10 thoughts on “When Was the iPad Really Invented?”

  1. Wow… this is an awesome article. Definitely a sort of spooky, but very interesting read. Who could’ve even thought of any of the things we have today, let alone… 40 years ago!? That’s crazy!


    Typed from my iPad.

  2. The words describe and invent have different meanings.

    Describe means to give an account in words of something including all the relevant characteristics or qualities. Allen Kay did that well. What he was doing was to start out with what a human being would need and flesh it out.

    Invent means to create or design (something which has not existed before.) Apple did the inventing, although some people would say that there is nothing new about the iPad.

    Allen Kay invented nothing, but he did a good job of imagining what people would want and need. It is interesting how close Apple got to Kay’s vision, assuming that Apple never heard of his concept. All this says is that good design, which fulfills human needs, is universal. Cultures which had no knowledge of each other come up with the same tools.

    We can all have pipe dreams. The hard part is turning them into reality.

    PS. $500 back in 1972 is like $2000, now.

  3. Fascinating. I’ve also heard stories attributing the iPad to MadTV, but that’s another angle…

  4. okay is funy put is this really true i mean are you sure, then why they did not do that way back then and then we would had more technology

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