The 1994 Knight-Ridder video I attached at the bottom of this post is a fantastic reminder that the tablet predates the iPad and Android tablet by many decades. During the "hypermedia" era of the late 1980's, I can recall taking a "tech of the future" class where my professor discussed in similar detail what a tablet might look like in the future. He described a day where students would be sitting under trees reading not from paper books but utilizing exactly what we know today as the digital tablet.
Believe it or not though, the origins of the tablet computer date back to the 19th century.
Electrical devices with data input and output on a flat information display have existed as early as 1888. Throughout the 20th century many devices with these characteristics have been ideated and created whether as blueprints, prototypes or commercial products, with the Dynabook concept in 1968 being a spiritual precursor of tablets and laptops. In addition to many academic and research systems, there were several companies with commercial products in the 1980s.
During the 2000s Microsoft attempted to define with the Microsoft Tablet PC the tablet personal computer product concept as a mobile computer for field work in business, though their devices failed to achieve widespread usage mainly due to price and usability problems that made them unsuitable outside of their limited intended purpose.
One of my dislikes for the iPad is selective amnesia both Apple and some users seem to have to the origins of the tablet. Who really invented the tablet? The answer to that question I think is everyone. It has been a collaborative effort in the making for the past several decades. Most of the design decisions were made long ago and we've just been waiting for the technology to catch up with past ideas. To tell you the truth, I'm befuddled with all the patent wars currently taking place in the technology field. There are very few product today that would exist without thanks to the technology thinkers of our past. Yet, the tech industry continues to waste the time of our courts to attempt to prove otherwise.
If you don't have 13 minutes to watch this video check the sections starting at mark 2:20 and another at 4:00. Also, the claim starting around mark 8:00 that no one would read "generic news" is a also good reminder that blogging hadn't yet reached critical mass and social media wasn't on the radar.