No, this is not an article deriding the latest Apple toy. That would not be right, for with any little problems that the iPad has, such as the wi-fi glitches, it does so many things right.

No, this simply points to a piece on PC World, where the iPad is revealed as a product dreamed up 22 years ago, and just waiting for the technology to catch up to the brilliance of the developers’ minds. Having had the product previewed for them, as it were, it couldn’t have been that difficult to reach back into memory and grasp the results of a competition in 1988.

In the late 1980s, Apple Computer was better known for fantasizing about breakthrough products than making them. Most famously, CEO John Sculley envisioned a futuristic gizmo called the Knowledge Navigator–featuring a bowtied digital assistant–in his 1987 book Odyssey. It made for a mighty impressive futuristic video.

In September of the same year, Apple announced a competition it called “Project 2000.” Teams from a dozen universities were invited to submit papers about Knowledge Navigator-like concepts representing the PC of far-off 2000. An impressive panel of judges–Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, personal-computing visionary Alan Kay, futurist Alvin Toffler, science fiction legend Ray Bradbury, and Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Diane Ravitch–judged the entries in early 1988.

A group from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign won, for a paper titled TABLET: The Personal Computer of the Year 2000. “We seek something which fits comfortably into people’s lives while dramatically changing them,” the entry explained. And then it went on to describe a machine that was as different from the typical portable computer of the era as you could imagine.

The device was about the size of a paper notebook, and it packed a high-resolution color touchscreen with a virtual keyboard, gigabytes of solid-state storage, cellular connectivity, GPS, and a built-in microphone and speaker. Sophisticated software based on UNIX let you tap icons on a desktop and use pop-down menus to use it for note-taking, connecting to online services, driving directions, e-mail (complete with junk-mail filtering), social networking, 3D games, and both network TV shows and wacky user-generated video. Accessories included a wireless keyboard for those who preferred to touch type, and if you lost your tablet, a clever service even let you use the GPS to track it down.

The article gives more details, a link to the original paper, and a video about it, and you could say that these people deserve all the success they obtain, simply by being that far out ahead of the pack. It was their idea to hold the competition. This is the kind of thinking that I wish was unleashed on the problems of energy, global warming, and pollution. Imagine what could be accomplished if fertile minds like the ones that dreamed this 22 years ago were set free to concentrate on our biggest problems today!


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Clearly some people don’t take time to think about things as they might someday be…

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