Pretty good predictions on tablet computing from UI scientists - except timing

Before the University of Illinois invented the web browser, a team of UI researchers "invented" – in theory – a tablet computer with most of the features of Apple's iPad.

The year was 1988. The web browser, Mosaic, came five years later.

Harry McCracken, the former editor of PC World, writes about the 1988 paper on the tech blog technologizer.com.

"I've spent a lot of time reading predictions about computers, and this is one of the best I've ever seen in getting more of the important things right," he told The News-Gazette.

"I think they were smart people. They knew what they were talking about, and they were precise. They mentioned things like GPS that were pretty new at the time," he said. "They foresaw social networks, the power of video and they were pretty accurate about the amount of storage, that it would be measured in gigabytes."

The machine had infrared communication, a microphone and speakers. The keyboard was virtual.

What's the main thing they got wrong?

"They thought it would be done 10 years earlier," McCracken said. It also was thicker than the iPad.

The paper said the notebook could be available in 2000. The text is online.

The authors are a who's who of computer and neuroscience leaders, among them Stephen Wolfram, the founder of Champaign's Mathematica. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The other authors were Bartlett Mel, Stephen Omohundro, Arch Robison, Steven Skiena, Kurt Thearling and Luke Young. Of them, only Robison still lives here.

Skiena, now a computer scientist in New York, said "we were a little disappointed that by the year 2000, this didn't exist."

McCracken said Apple announced a competition called "Project 2000," in which teams from a dozen universities were invited to submit papers about the PC of 2000. The judges included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, personal-computing expert Alan Kay, futurist Alvin Toffler and science fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

The UI team won, for a paper entitled "TABLET: The Personal Computer of the Year 2000."

Robison, who works for Intel, said he was glad the team got storage right.

"We didn't see flash cards coming. We missed out on how important the Internet would be. There was Usenet at the time," he said.

Of course, the Internet would need a browser to exploit its visual and audio capabilities, which the UI's Mosaic helped make possible.

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