A Bitter Pill to Swallow


P. Atkinson, 'A Bitter Pill to Swallow: The Rise and Fall of the Tablet Computer'
Design Issues 24(4): 2008: 3-25


The first tablet computers appeared at the tail end of the 1980s, and they generated a huge amount of interest in the computer industry and serious amounts of investment money from venture capitalists. Pen operated computing was seen as the next wave of the silicon revolution and the tablet computer was seen to be the device everyone would want to use. It was reported in 1991 that 'Nearly every major maker of computers has some type of pen-based machine in the works'.

Yet, in the space of just a few years, the tablet computer and the notion of pen computing sank almost without trace. Following a series of disastrous product launches and the failure of a number of promising startup companies, the tablet computer was discredited as an unfulfilled promise. It no longer represented the future of mobile computing, but was instead derided as an expensive folly - an irrelevant sideline in the history of the computer.

This article traces the early development of pen computing, the appearance, proliferation and disappearance of the tablet computer, and explores possible reasons for the demise of this particular class of product.

The full article can be accessed and downloaded for free from the Design Issues website.