It's both sad and amazing that much of what we use today was "coming soon" 23 years ago.
While it's sad, one of my biggest lessons from it was that the greatest genius with the iPhone and iPad was understanding the market.
Showing our tablet to techies worked great. People were excited about the hardware, about the fact it ran Linux, about it running Opera, and in general geeked out over it.
But it was tethered to your house - few places had more than 9600 bps GSM data, so it used a DECT extension (wifi was not well established) to provide an internet connection tied to your house.
And it had a crappy resistive touch screen. Low resolution. Too slow CPU. Too little RAM. Too little flash.
Imagine a slow, heavy tablet with low resolution and janky touch that you could take no further than your garden (if you were lucky).
So what we use today superficially looks like more modern versions (that bezel size...) of things on offer back then. But really a lot of the time while they worked well as prototypes, we just didn't have the sense (or opportunity) to say "the time isn't right for this product yet, let's pick it up again when x,y,z has happened."
So many people doing product development work of one sort or another fail to understand this to their detriment.
You have to screw up the engineering for it to kill a product; a mediocre implementation is often times just fine, especially if you are early.
But if you are building the wrong thing, no amount of implementation talent can save you.
From this I think the issue is vertical integration to produce a seamless product. In this sense, at the time, maybe Microsoft had some ideas but abandoned them before they were ready (Courier).
It's just that during the first generation of smartphones and tablets the hardware simply was not there. The wide bezels you see in my link above, for example, were strictly dictated by what was possible to make work with the hardware specs, which were already too limited, but the best we could do at a reasonable price while staying small enough.
The big bulky thing at the back was making the best possible out of the battery space by turning it into a stand of sorts. The FreePad industrial design was actually quite amazing given the constraints, but the constraints were too severe to make a viable product possible.
And instead of waiting for it to be possible, we all compromised the hardware without realising that turned it into something most customers didn't want.
And so most companies that tried abandoned that market and took the wrong lesson from it that customers had rejected the whole product category rather than just the ugly, underpowered hardware that was possible at the time.
Apple's success in this space came in understanding that customers had rejected the design, not the product category.
Ironically, Apple's app store happened first after they had to concede web based "apps" had exactly that problem: The technology was not there yet, and insisting on only web apps did not give people the experience they wanted. But that was a problem that could be solved without waiting for hardware to catch up.
I think people forget how quickly computers (especially in efficiency!) improved from just 2000-2005 and again from 2005-2010.
Everything has leveled out a bit until recently. I think we'll see another 5 year growth spurt once stacked designs become common end of 2022ish. Though TSV vs EMIB is a whole other argument/ball of wax.
Go back nine years today and things don't feel that different from now. People still buy Skyrim.
Someday we're going to wonder how anyone managed to navigate or buy things in shops without realtime vision markup.
Big open world is good, if you can manage to fill the big open world with stuff. But procedural generation is annoying and repetitive, but at the same time handcrafting a world is time and labor intensive. See: Cyberpunk 2077
You can say that again. I'm typing this on a desktop PC powered by a Xeon that is approaching 10 years old and I don't have any complaints. The cost of upgrading it over the years has been modest.
In comparison I have a Nexus 5 that is about the same age and getting modern Android on it is a pain, the processor really struggles and the physical device itself has seen much better days.
"""Luckily""" for me I do mostly standard-definition encodes and can get a sustained ~11FPS with my own ICC-built x265 binaries and my own custom "SD" encoder tuning. Every time I encode an HD video I wonder why I haven't replaced this system yet. Then I look at component prices and remember why.
Kids today with their insanely high IOPS! They don't know the pain!
... so to speak.
It was only a couple years between the 1998 Comdex and when I got my first wifi PalmOS device with a color screen. At some point my handheld devices acquired the ability to connect directly to a cellular network, which was nice, and then became really nice with the iPhone. But I don't think that was ever a planned feature for the WebPad in the first place.
The form factor is perhaps more interesting. We did have to wait 12 years until Apple legitimized the idea of a device along these lines that doesn't fit in a pocket.
"Form factor" can be a slippery notion. The genius of the iPad design, I think, is that it _couldn't_ be mistaken for an educational device. It actually looked like it belonged in a leather folio next to some important papers, not in your kids' school bag.
The upshot of this is that there's more time between now and the IBM PC than there is between the IBM PC and ENIAC. (18K vacuum tunes, filled a room, and and was programmed via physical rewiring, at least initlally.)
> Time perception is sometimes strange.
iTunes provided a platform to get a critical mass of users accustom to buying $0.89-$20 digital downloads. Which made the transition of iTunes into an "app store" a minor one for users. They are there to buy music, but maybe in the future, they might find some apps for their iPhone useful.
Once Apple had a critical mass of developers building non-trivial apps for the iPhone. It was a (kind of) baby step to supporting tablets.
Lots of people tried to invent the tablet. I think they failed because of a lack of software, rather than poor hardware.
It's possible software would have stopped wide adoption, but software was a solvable problem - porting Linux apps to our platform was comparatively easy, for example, and we could run Flash, so we could show fairly fancy demos.
But it never got far enough for most of these platforms for software to become a problem, other than for Palm who had apps, but stumbled in all kinds of other ways, not least in never shaking the image as a serious PDA, which instantly made it a niche product.
The devices were hampered by all kinds of hardware limitations. Screens were awful. The touch panels were awful. Even really expensive devices felt like toys because of it. CPUs were awfully slow. Lack of wifi was a big issue with the first generation tablets and solved in all kinds of awful ways. Flash was ludicrously expensive - we agonised over 16MB vs. 32MB storage. We used NanoX  rather than X11 for our windowing system because the engineering cost of adapting NanoX and writing our own widgets for it was worth it to save a few MB of flash and a few MB of RAM.
And so getting distributors and retailers and the like to commit crashed and burned before you got to the point of what software you could launch it with.
Brings back memories to see Stewart Cheifet giving an interview!
It's amazing that the webpad was due to launch the same year that The Matrix was in theatres.
It's a good antidote to the narrative that either an idea is sufficient for success, or that success is a function of the idea. It's important, sure, but a fair bit of it is having the timing, resources, and luck to throw ideas against the wall until the world is ready for it, either due to cultural factors, missing infrastructure now built out, or other underlying technological evolutions meeting up together.
It wasn't even Apple's first. And unlike the ones that came before it actually did reasonably well at matching the depiction. It got the relative size, weight and pick up and just use experience.
But nobody at Apple would have known the tech was ready if people hadn't been trying over and over to do it for the previous 20 years.
New tech is almost never an original invention that came from nowhere. The internet was built on decades of research specifically into networking computers together but also built on almost a century's worth of development into the phone network. The experiments that lead to radar date to not long after radio became practical. The Wright bro's weren't the first to try an airplane, they were the first to make it work. and so on.
Its the implementation that matters.
When the iPhone came out i had an HTC TyTN 2 which unlike the iPhone could do turn by turn navigation, send SMS/MMS to multiple recipients, and act as a 3g modem for my computer while i was traveling. I also adored the pull out keyboard, which until the advent of swype was by far the fastest input method for a mobile device.
RIM proved that there was demand for smartphones long before the iPhone hit the market.
Not to mention the irony that Microsoft quickly abandoned its own platform so the only people keeping it a useable device were Opera, Gmail and Google maps. The Microsoft browser couldn't even cope with the Microsoft website.
There was also a room full of to-be-recycled electronics in 42. It was open to employees so they could recycle personal stuff but it was absolutely full of (I assume non-confidential) prototypes including stuff that looked like it was from Google X. I was too scared to take any of this stuff but was really tempted to grab the carbon fiber gliders and weird nest devices.
Although I haven't seen anything as cool as the one in this article, sometimes there are coffee mugs or T-shirts of failed startups and large companies that are gone long time ago, or lovely T-shirts that used to be sold in Cupertino Apple store.
It's absurd and I love it
Prices have been crazy since they've re-opened. They have a bunch of Apple devices in right now, some company dropped off a ton.
What a find!
There is a good documentary on the Centaur, unfortunately no comments when it came up in HN 3 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17471685.
Windows 3 pen computing tablet for sharing documents over a phone line.
Linux wifi was extra iffy back then iirc. Might need a proprietary blob.
Goodwill helps people, keeps stuff out of landfills, and provides a fascinating trove of treasure with every visit. Kudos to the author.