A history of personal computing in 20 objects part 2
The 1980s to the Present
Towards total mobility...
Throughout the early 1980s, Psion was best known as a provider of software for Sinclair computers, but in 1984 it launched the Organiser, its first hardware product and what is almost certainly the world’s first handheld computer - even though it was really only used to run basic personal information management software. Two years later, Psion released a much more advanced model, the Organiser II, which is now considered the first PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), though the term wasn’t coined - by Apple’s then-CEO, John Sculley - until 1992. More than a personal-data entry and presentation device, the Organiser II had a programming language, OPL, allowing to to run general-purpose applications. Psion soon shifted away from organiser functionality to focus on handheld computing with devices like the Series 3 and Series 5. Its EPOC OS would eventually become Symbian.
By 1994, Psion had already defined the PDA market with the Organiser II and Apple had made it a laughing stock with the Newton MessagePad. Now IBM would take the PDA to the next level: incorporate cellular phone connectivity to create the first smartphone, the Simon, released in August 1994. IBM had shown the prototype in November 1992, but it took the intervening 18 months to get the software right. Simon, sold by US telco BellSouth, had a stylus- or finger-operated 4.5in touchscreen on which were presented phone, personal info, email and other PDA-style apps, all running on a 16MHz x86-compatible CPU. Simon was a chunky, clunky affair and was discontinued in 1995. The following year, Nokia would release the 9000 Communicator and show how to do it properly.
It was the Mac all over again. Apple didn’t invent the tablet, or the tablet-centric operating system, but its iPad nonetheless has done more than any other platform to popularise this form-factor. Indeed, while GUI computing would have become dominant without the Mac, there’s a case for claiming that today’s array of tablets would not have arrived without the iPad. Would smartphones have gained bigger screens? For sure. But rivals’ feverish rush to emulate the iPad’s success with 10in tablets of their own shows the Apple gadget was a groundbreaker.
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