Feb 10

iPad: a long time coming (or not)

What did Apple know, and when did it know it?

Ever wonder exactly how far ahead Apple sees into the future? Some have suggested that iPad was in development for years.

You may be tempted to file this under “Things We’ll Never Know.” But in the case of iPad, the answer may not be too hard to divine.

Stand back and let me interrogate the witness on this one:

Q. Good morning. Would you be so kind as to identify the name of iPhone’s operating system when it was launched in 2007.
A. Yes, that would be OS X.

Q. And explain to the court why you chose that name.
A. It was to distinguish iPhone from Mac. It was OS X vs. Mac OS X.

Q. I see. And where were you on the evening of March 27, 2008?
A. I don’t remember.

Q. Allow me to refresh your memory. That was the date Apple released the iPhone Developer’s Kit — and changed the name of iPhone’s operating system from OS X to iPhone OS.
A. Oh, right. I remember that now.

Q. Uh huh. And when you chose the name iPhone OS, were you aware that Apple was already working on a revolutionary new kind of computer, a tablet that would be based on the same operating system?
A. I, uh, don’t recall.

Q. You’re under oath, sir.
A. Okay, okay. I remember now. Yes, I was aware of that.

Q. And did you not consider the absurdity of putting something called iPhone OS into a revolutionary product that was not a phone?
A. Uh… yeah, that did kind of strike me, yes.

Q. Why on earth then, sir, would you not choose a name that would allow just a little flexibility in the future… OS X Mobile, perhaps?

Q. Hello?
A. Uh … I’ll take the Fifth.

Q. No further questions, Your Honor.

My point is, Apple has always demonstrated tremendous common sense. It’s just hard to believe they’d choose the name iPhone OS if iPad was already on the drawing board. My inner Sherlock tells me iPad wasn’t even a twinkle in Apple’s eye until well after March, 2008. That’s still plenty of time to make one hell of a device — but not nearly as much time as some have suggested.

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  • Neilw

    Very interesting thesis. I was also struck by Jobs’ mention that “one year ago, we asked for an iPad version of iWork.”. I would’ve thought they’d’ve been working on it longer than that if the tablet had been in the works foe so long.

    The only thing I can conclude is that although Apple has been working on some form of tablet for a long time, this particular form of the device crystallized fairly recently. The success of the App Store convinced them that they could use that as a foundation for the new device, and off they went.

    In the unspecified future, I look forward to learning the inside story of how this whole thing evolved.

  • ken segall

    Extremely good point. Surely the wild success of the App Store was the big reason to believe iPad could be a hit. And that success wasn’t apparent until well after the Developer’s Kit was released. (But I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting to learn that inside story…)

  • Micah

    Interesting point, however, it is also a likely possibility that Jobs and Co. had planned on running a “diet” version of OS X or even a third OS destined exclusively for the iPad.

  • Iain

    The contrarian view would suggest that the name ‘iPhone OS’ was a smokescreen to make people think that the iPhone was the only touch-operated device coming from Apple.

    OS X mobile is far too telling, as well as sounding like a Microsoft naming convention. :P

  • ken segall

    Well, iPhone OS already is the diet version of Mac OS X, which is why it was originally named plain old OS X. But yes, it could have been that they weren’t yet sure which OS would run on a tablet that was only being conceived at the time. Still, I’d think the possibility would have been known, and that would have been taken into consideration.

    Yes, also true. But the “smokescreen” idea seems more convoluted than Apple’s normal way of working. Secret, yes. Secret agent stuff, no. My “Mobile” name was really just for argument’s sake. You know, the simplest thing Apple could have done was not change the name at all. Calling it OS X wouldn’t have hinted at anything, it could work in any device, and it would communicate as originally intended — one great technology working across all Apple devices.

  • Steven

    Let us not forget that by the time the iPhone OS was renamed such, the iPod Touch already existed.

  • Chris Capone

    Well, the iPhone OS also runs the iPod touch, which is also not a phone.
    This is why I think they will and should rename the iPhone OS to merely iOS.

    It would designate anything with an ‘i’ in front of it will be able to run this version of OSX.

    Oh… the iMac…yeah, but it also has a ‘Mac’ in the name so maybe it will run both. TouchScreeniMac!

  • Some of the early iPhone interviews with Jobs made it pretty obvious that the iPhone hadn’t been what they meant to build, but just what was practical at the time.

    I think they just didn’t have a name.

  • I seem to recall a New York Times piece where Jobs said that the iPhone was an outgrowth of a skunkworks “Safari Pad” project, which sounds to me an awful lot like a primitive iPad.

    I honestly thought iPhone OS was an awkward name from the beginning, but that name could always change. Remember, for a long time Mac OS was “System 7” (or whatever the current version happened to be). In a few years we could see the name morph.

    Although probably not to iOS, as appropriate as I think that would be. Cisco already has an entrenched router operating system called IOS, and while they were willing to compromise on the trademark for their unsuccessful iPhone, I really doubt they would let Apple take over the name of one of their core technologies.

  • Bryan

    There’s also a marketing advantage to using the iPhone OS name at this point. It makes it obvious to the nongeeks that the iPad is in the same family of devices as the iPhone. They can expect the same interface simplicity and ease of use that they love on their iPhones.

  • GadgetGav

    That’s the weakest argument I have ever heard for ‘deducing’ the length of time a product has been in development. You even point out yourself that the iPhone’s operating system was called OS X. What’s to say that in a few month’s time (probably June based on past performance) there won’t be an iPhone 4G announcement where the mobile device operating system is renamed again..? The product names are chosen largely for marketing reasons – the original was called OS X to allow them to claim a larger number of OS X ‘devices’.
    I fail to see how the name assigned to the OS can lead you to believe that they hadn’t given even the slightest though to a tablet sized computing device before March 2008 when so much other evidence points to the contrary. Have you ever seen the Frog Design ‘Snow White’ tablet models??

  • Marc Zeedar

    Who says iPad runs iPhone OS? Surely it’s another variation. Over time, that distinction will grow, and we’ll have iPhone OS, iPad OS, and Mac OS X. The naming of the OS does not reflect Apple’s unannounced plans.

  • Kevin

    Perhaps Apple wil rename it as WWDC. OS X Touch sounds good to me.

  • Bryan

    @Marc – Some of the tech journalists who had hands-on time at the introduction noted that the iPads were running iPhone OS 3.2.

  • chaz larson

    The renaming to iPhone OS may have been to reduce confusion on the part of new-to-the-Apple-platform[s] iPhone app developers.

    “So, I want to develop for OS X, right? The Leopard one?”
    “No, that’s *Mac* OS X. You want to target OS X.”

  • noah

    Jumping to conclusions, I’d say. At most, this shows that, as of March 2008, Apple did not intend to use iPhone OS X on the iPad, not that the iPad “wasn’t even a twinkle in Apple’s eye.”

  • Scott Boone

    This is along the lines of my thought…I could never wrap my head around Apple’s change of the name of the OS X variant running on the iPhone. It is just absurdly arbitrary.
    First off, did no one at Apple really see that the iPhone (and soon to come iPod Touch) were the family successor to the iPod “classic”? The iPod as it existed was about to “die”. So, why did the new OS become the “iPhone OS” when it was really just the “new” iPod OS? And when you go to the Apple website the inconsistency is glaring and jolting. iPod+iTunes tab, iPhone tab…where’s the iPad tab going to be?
    After all, when the iPod was introduced, it was positioned as the beginning of a new, personal computing platform. I never would have believed Apple would have been so shortsighted to hamstring that vision to the PortalPlayer OS. It was my thought that the iPod -IS- a family…there is nothing “pod-like” about the iPod, so no reason the name only applies to a basic media player. Further, it just makes sense that future models would have phone features, be bigger, etc.

  • ken segall

    I confess: this was a light-hearted post based completely on circumstantial evidence. Of course we don’t know how Apple will move forward, and yes it’s always possible that they will rename the OS — yet again — in June. It would just be highly uncharacteristic. Apple has a religious devotion to common sense and simplicity in naming as well as design. That’s why the iPhone OS change-of-naming was curious to me. It’s an awkward fit with what happened relatively soon after. Just imagine a different world, where iMac was Apple’s only computer, running the “iMac OS.” Would Apple announce the high-end Mac Pro, show off all its power, then announce that it’s running the iMac OS? Just doesn’t make marketing sense. The current reality makes perfect sense: all Macs run Mac OS X. In Apple’s world of brilliant simplicity, all mobile devices would share a common OS as well — and it wouldn’t be named after one specific product. I think it’s valid reason to raise one’s eyebrows.

  • mark

    “It’s just hard to believe they’d choose the name iPhone OS if iPad was already on the drawing board. ”

    but what if they were thinking pad, but hadn’t decided what it was going to run? what about the CPU – surely the A4 took a while to build unless PA Semi already had something that just needed to be tweaked. once you have the CPU you decide which OS (or do I have that backwards)

    also – iphone OS 3.2 is pad only. phones will never see it. maybe the phone will run “something else” when 4.0 comes out

    i’m not convinced that what we saw last month is final or complete. the hardware might be, but the launch version of the OS might be incremented somehow.

  • Nick Norman

    Your logic is faulty. If they were working on the iPad before the iPhone then it is logical that the OS X v Mac OS X holds. The further slimming of OS X to make it work on the iPhone is then the reason for iPhone OS. Exercising your own logic, the only way to account for the transitional step of OS X is to allow for devices other than, and preceding the iPhone – but it’s a dumb way to read the mind of Apple.

  • ken segall

    You (and a few other commenters) have raised the point that Apple might simply not have figured out what OS iPad would be running yet. In my opinion, that’s a stretch. Apple has one overall operating system. Mac OS X is the jewel of the empire, probably Apple’s most important asset. In one form or another, it powers all of Apple’s most capable devices from iPod touch to the most powerful Mac Pro. So I seriously doubt that there was ever a time in the development of iPad that the engineers considered creating a new OS exclusively for the new device.

    @Nick Norman:
    If my logic is faulty, rest assured it won’t be the first time. I’m not sure I’m following your logic correctly, so forgive me if my reply doesn’t quite match up. I don’t believe Apple “further slimmed” OS X to work on iPhone, it was already working quite well. They simply changed the name because the similarity between the names OS X and Mac OS X was causing confusion. I don’t believe OS X was created as a “transitional step”— it was created to be the OS for iPhone, and then expanded to include iPod touch. The point of my post is that when Apple decided there was reason enough to change the name of OS X, they could have named it anything in the world. That they chose to name it for a single product line is curious, especially when it would one day power a completely different product line. I’m sure there are multiple explanations — but it is something that requires explanation.

  • I suspect this is analogous to our homeland security department – where one branch doesn’t know what the other branch knows because it’s a secret.

  • ianf

    [1] Your etymological exegesis of iPod’s temporal origins posesses certain je-ne-sais-quoi-tability, but ultimately brings us no nearer an answer. Chiefly because, when asking the question, you failed to define what you consider to be “twinkle in Apple’s eye.” If what you mean by that is some “hey-what-if-we-made-a-tablet”-moment in Steve Jobs’ proximity, then that must have happened considerably earlier than your best-guess “after March 2008.”

    [2] I’d say it was the same week when yet-to-be-born iPhone’s basic form was set upon, and both (unnamed) iPod Touch and iTablet first shimmered in the distance. That is, they were mentioned as logical future outgrowths of the projected cell-thinggy. Which must’ve happened AT THE LATEST in 2004, when Apple reached the strategic decision to disrupt the stagnant mobile phone market (well integrated custom hardware-firmware-software projects of that magnitude take at least 2 years to materialize). Of course, I wouldn’t call that occassion the birth of either.

    [3] On the other hand, if you were thinking of the actual, budgeted, post-feasibility-studies decision to extend Apple’s product line with a tablet, then that can not be derived from OS-naming practices. Our best bet is the lead time needed to perfect iPad’s defining mission-critical component, the A4 CPU (of which we know little apart from it being narrowly optimized for the device – the whole point of the excercise). Such chip-design and customization process takes 6-to-12 months depending on degree of concurrent modifications of target hardware, and the level of expected optimization.

    [4] Apple bought PA Semi in April of 2008 following, I presume, a couple of months of research and few weeks of negotiations between the two companies. Let’s say they first contacted the chip-maker in February 2008. By that time, however, Apple had to have known what they wanted it for. So, walking back the cat even further, we can safely surmise that iPad-the-fetus was conceived early in 2008, while iPad-the-concept defined aproximately a year before that, at about the time iPhone was readied for its first public appearance, March of 2007.

    [5] In fact I would imagine that iPad was in the works (however defined) in parallel with iPod Touch, and intended early-on for introduction ONLY after the two handhelds solidified enough to be considered mature. That, and having seeded the market with enough applications for the iPad not to feel “naked” from day one (of which follows that the tablet was to be an iPhone OS-device right from the start; but let us stop there).

    [6] Don’t let me get started on the design process, because I wouldn’t know when to quit ;-)) [signed Ian, once industrial designer, now tech scribe].

  • george

    In my opinion, it doesn’t matter at all. The name of the processor doesn’t matter, the name of the operating system doesn’t matter und the amount of RAM doesn’t matter. And, more importantly, the stuff written on so many blogs/’news’sites /press articles which have the geek in mind doesn’t matter anymore, too. Apple managed (or had just luck, but I doubt it) to have their devices in enough hands, so that the opinions of geeks don’t matter anymore. Everybody (in the so-called 1st world, but also in the 2nd and 3rd world) has a good chance to see the actual Apple procucts in use/get a chance to use them. The stuff which is important for geeks and finds his way into the public doesn’t matter at all, if it depends anything made by Apple. Deal with it. My opinion isn’t intended to harm you geeks (I’d call myself half a geek – at least – myself). Just find your new position in a world where somebody actually makes computing devices for everybody (including you geeks). Peace.

  • ianf

    ?What? are you blabbering about, George? We’re conducting an in-depth investigation into possible points of departure for iPad-the-twinke-in-Apple’s-eye, not worrying whether it’ll be perceived as this or that in this world or the one after that. Relax, bro.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    An interesting discussion, but I think you are way off.

    First: who says iPad is not a “phone”? It is very clearly a phone. It has 3G, it has a built-in microphone and speaker, it has a headphone jack with microphone in it to work with iPhone headsets, it has Bluetooth to connect to headsets, hands-free, and car kits, and it runs Skype and Truphone and others, including over 3G. It is pretty easy to imagine a car with an iPad slot in the dashboard, where docking your iPad hooks it into the car’s audio system and gives you a car phone, maps, and a music library.

    Second: the names of the systems refer to the app platforms, not the devices they run on. An Xserve runs Mac OS so it can run Mac apps, and an iPad runs iPhone OS so it can run iPhone apps. The iPhone always has all of the mobile features: 3G, GPS, proximity sensor, etc. while iPod touch and iPad have only a subset. The apps are made for iPhone and they secondarily run on the other mobile devices. iPhone sits at the top of the hierarchy. Same way that even if you are making an app specifically for Xserve, you are making a Mac app.

    Finally, Steve Jobs is on record in 2007 saying the first iteration of an Apple touch tablet was done in 2003, and they shrank it down for iPhone. It’s been a long time coming. But it was launched in 2010, it follows the iPhone, it comes into today’s software ecosystem, it wants to run the existing library of iPhone apps. So it runs iPhone OS.

  • george



    The Dynabook concept, created by Alan Kay, dates back to 1968, 2 years before the founding of Xerox Parc (if that wiki-article is right). 42 years ago. I, personally, don’t believe that Steve Jobs didn’t think of the Dynabook as the future of human computing. But that’s just my opinion, of course.

  • ianf

    @George, Alan Kay’s Dynabook, alongside Vannevar Bush’s Memex, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memex – and countless other futuristic devices were figments of their fathers’ imagination, not real product concepts. Neither Bush, nor Kay expected them to happen very soon (if at all), nor treated them as anything more than a demo – just as Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 “mother of all the demos” showcasing augmented mouse-pointer document editing, etc., never attempted to capitalize on his ideas…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos

    [I think the key here is physical testability of the imagined item – by which standard neither of the two gents qualify, while Engelbart does – I’ve seen the filmed demo. Another who’d qualify would be Konrad Zuse, the 1942 inventor/builder of the first working electronic computer (predating the ENIAC) that used magentic reed switches in place of vacuum tubes. The stupidity and hubris of Nazi Germany prevented Zuse from developing it further, for which we should be grateful. Computer survived the war and is presently housed in the Technical Museum in Munich, Germany].

    Unlike Dynabook and Memex, the iPad was conceived in a very different context, and, once decision taken, brought to life-or-death in the marketplace. Alan Kay was, still is an Apple Fellow, but whether his by-now ancient ideas (which, if I recall correctly, had no touch component) were among Apple’s guiding lights for the iPad, is very debatable. Besides, Apple has always had a share of forward thinkers, among them my own favorite Jef Raskin, who cumulatively left plenty of footprints behind.

    Because there now are plenty of tablets on offer, going nowhere fast [and soon to be replaced by iPad-lookylikes™], Apple probably looked more at why those failed, than at why Dynabook never happened. So, please, let us not enter into a bidding war of who can supply more contextual Wikipedia links than the other… please?

  • OmariJames

    Exactly !!!! I predicted you’re suggest the ” OS X Mobile ” … Exactly my thoughts.

  • I would argue that Apple doesn’t do a good job of naming their products for future expansions. Most likely, their research & development department doesn’t communicate directly with their marketing department. The most glaring example is that of iTunes and the iTunes Store. Did they really expect that their media player would never play anything other than audio? I would guess that the developers had an inkling that it might be bigger that just a music management app, but the marketing department wanted their product name to be simple and clear at the time of the release. Once it gained popularity, it just stuck. The same is true for iPhone OS.

  • I don’t get this article… What do you expect Apple to have called the OS if they knew they were working on other secret devices that might use it?

    Mobile Device OS?
    iPhone & “other yet to be announced secret stuff” OS?

    The point is that the name was relevant at the time. And it remains relevant now.

    Calling it iPhone OS concentrated us on what they wanted us to concentrate on and did not stoke up the already overworked and ridiculous rumour mills even further about what other device Apple may or may not be working on.

    Therefore calling it iPhone OS was a no brainer.

    The iPad was in development for a long long time.

  • This is actually wrong.

    Around WWDC 08 when the iPhone SDK was released Apple referred to the OS as “OS X iPhone” not “iPhone OS”. I have a T-shirt to prove it.

    I think “iPhone OS” just slipped into the vernacular.

  • Mister Snitch

    Gotta agree with Nick Norman. Very poor reasoning here.

  • ken segall

    @Mister Snitch:
    Let me put it another way. If you were the maker of iPhone, and it became necessary to change the name of its OS, and you knew that in less than two years you’d be launching an entirely new product category based on the same OS — would you really name it iPhone OS? Just doesn’t make sense. Of course, this could have happened for many different reasons. Personally, I gravitate to the obvious. If iPad did exist at this time, it was in such an early iteration that its ultimate form (including OS) was totally unclear.

    For the record, some Apple products have long incubation periods, some don’t. iMac was conceived and shipped within a nine-month period. Pretty remarkable. Also, Apple takes extreme care in product naming, with a view to the future. The simple fact that iPhone’s OS shipped with one name, changed six months later, and may now face yet another change is pretty good evidence that something out of the ordinary happened here.

    You sent me into research mode with that one, and you are absolutely correct. Bonus points! This adds a bit of further mystery to the story, that the name iPhone OS sort of slipped into use instead of being introduced formally. However, it’s also a bit of a side story, since it has since become the “official” name, and that’s by Apple’s own choosing.

  • ken segall

    True, a lot of people in the world (including yourself) don’t really care about the names of Apple’s products, OS’s, or any of that stuff. Those people don’t usually stop in to read this blog. The idea here is to have a little fun, maybe pick up some insight from other interested people. Like “ianf” above, who shared enough data to last at least into the next decade :) …

    @ Hamranhansenhansen:
    I’ll continue to disagree. What you say is mostly true, but Apple strives to present things to its customers (and developers) in the clearest, simplest way. That’s a core value. Sorry, but to say “iPad runs iPhone apps, so naturally it runs the iPhone OS” doesn’t meet the clarity test. Besides, it’s the iPad apps that are going to make iPad so remarkable, which are well beyond what is supported on iPhone — yet they will be also be running on the iPhone OS.

    @Matt Mitchell:
    Apple doesn’t have the problem with different departments not communicating well. They all communicate extremely well with the CEO, and he coordinates it all — far more so than most CEOs. When a particular name no longer seems to work well (iTunes is an excellent example), I believe it’s simply an indication that things evolved in a somewhat different way than projected. Apple has no superhuman powers in this area, and sometimes things just need to get adjusted. Like iTunes probably will one day. And, I suspect, iPhone OS…

    I don’t get what you don’t get. My point is just what you said. If Apple had a definite plan for secret products coming down the pike, they could easily have given iPhone’s OS a name that wasn’t tied specifically to iPhone. It would have made perfect sense, it would not have raised a bit of suspicion, and they wouldn’t have to face another confusing name change in the future. Mac OS X is used by every Mac. iPhone OS is used by every… iPhone? I agree with you that the name iPhone OS was relevant at the time, I totally disagree that it’s relevant now — not with iPad about to take it to a whole new level of capability.

  • @ken:
    Well, my point is that *if* Apple had called it “Mobile OS” people would have automatically assumed there was something else in the pipeline. Traditionally that is *not* something Apple want people to do.

    At the moment the iPad is just a preview device. It may go the way on the Newton, and then the name “Mobile OS” makes them look pretty silly.

    It’s been called iPhone OS X or OS X iPhone (thanks RichardL) for the entire lifetime of the iPod too. Do you think Apple really give a damn?

  • Keith Fisher

    They should rename iPhone OS to ISAAC. It would encompass all the brands and keep with “i” branding as well as a hint of Newton. It also gives it more of a human persona (HAL like) especially since it has Voice Control and Voice Over. Just a thought…

  • Doug

    That’ll be converted to iSack in about a second

    iTunes will become iHome and link our lights, security, fridge, air con, games, groceries, music, video etc

    or maybe iWin….

  • Taxi

    I think “iphone OS” is quite clumsy and not really Apple’s style at all. So perhaps it’s just a placeholder name, and when iPad is released Apple will announce xOS 4.0 ? :)

  • you do realize that if this thread were a party, the only girl in the room would be the poor pizza delivery girl that drew the short straw to deliver here, right?

    and she wouldn’t even want to hang around for the tip while the slide rules are brought out to calculate it to the 5th decimal …

    i mean really? armchair brand directing what they should or should not call the OS?

    what’s the opposite of interesting?


  • Taxi

    oh oh oh nobody seems to have mentioned that the iPad is the roughly the size of a sheet of A4 paper… perhaps the most common paper size outside the US… and it’s CPU is called, “A4”. Coincidence? :)

  • vastaman

    It’s all about the apps. As David Carr said on Charlie Rose’s show, “One thing you have to understand about this gadget is that the gadget disappears pretty quickly. You’re looking into pure software.”

    And as we all know, the AppStore is one of the key reasons for the iPhone’s success.

    Note that “Apple” itself starts with “App”.

    My prediction: Apple renames the OS to “App OS 4”.

    The iPad: App OS 4 + Apple A4 chip.

  • Alan Kay

    February 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    It is not a good idea to make up opinions and express them as facts on a medium which can be searched from any place on the Internet.

    First, a simple one: I have not been an Apple Fellow since 1996.

    Now a more important one. Page 8 of the Dynabook paper from 1972 (guess what? it can be found via Google and the web), mentions exactly the idea of making the entire surface of the display touch sensitive and merely displaying the keyboard. The idea of touch sensitive displays was not original to me but goes back into the 1960s.

    Most important, we did build a Dynabook — the forerunner of the Macintosh (11 years before in 1973) at Xerox PARC was called the “Interim Dynabook” (it had to be in the form of a desktop computer in those days), and it is where the modern GUI was first done — and where Steve Jobs saw it in 1979.

    This is relatively common knowledge, but it doesn’t bother me that you don’t know it. What does bother me is that your tone implies that you know just everything about this, and your content shows that you know nothing.

  • ianf

    @Alan Kay, I stand corrected, and am very sorry not to have freshened up my leaky knowledge prior to posting. Once acquired, it gets mushy with times. I recall reading your Dynabook paper in reprint form in the 90s, and some of its concepts must have atrophied faster with me than others. But would you be prepared to draw a direct line of descent between your Interim Dynabook prototype and the iPad, which was the thesis of the poster I argued with?

    @Taxi: “iPad is the roughly the size of a sheet of A4 paper” – not.

    A4 is 30×21 cm (297×210 mm) while iPad’s ~24.3×19 cm (243×189 mm). The iPad’s screen on the other hand is practically the width of A5 sheet (half the size of A4=148 mm), while being ~1 cm shorter than A5 height (197 vs. 210 mm).

    “A4” CPU is in all probability just a coincidence, sounds like 4th iteration of the “A” processor to me.

  • Alan Kay


    I’m not angry specifically at you.

    Here’s the paradox: a bunch of us about 40 years ago decided to try to create the next 500 year invention after the printing press — and one of its many improvements is the ability to form “scaffolded opinions” based on more prior context, more easily obtainable, than ever before in history.

    But what is rampant on the web are people just expressing opinions without even being willing to type a few keystrokes to Google or to go beyond the misinformation that pervades Wikipedia. These unfounded guesses and opinions are not vetted by the search engines and thus contribute more disorder and confusion to the process of finding out things.

    The other thing that is quite odd is that it is easy to send me an email to ask me directly how this and that actually happened and ramified. This sometimes happens, but not for most of unfounded opinions about how we got to where we are.

    So, where we thought we were making new kinds of libraries and telescopes and microscopes, most people just try to see their own reflection in them…..

    It’s hard to forget the outlines of an idea, even a pretty straightforward one like the Dynabook. This was part of the context that Steve Jobs saw when he experienced our demo to him in 1979, and he was quite interested in making a Dynabook when he invited me to join Apple in 1984.

    As I explained in the last half of that 1972 paper, the 1968 idea was built basically on Moore’s law (first uttered around 1965), prior art in the ARPA community I was a part of (including some of my own), plus some software breakthroughs that we thought we could make.

    However, my conception of a Dynabook was primarily a service idea — that is, what could it be to its users, especially children? These ideas and goals were partly expressed (with too much purple prose) in the front half of that paper.

    The small aim of the Dynabook was to be at least as good as a book (both for consumption and construction) extended to all media and connected by wireless and wired networks to the ARPAnet (and then Internet) the ARPA community was inventing concurrently.

    The large aim of the Dynabook was to exploit some of the special nature of the computer (Papert got us to see what we already knew in a very different light) to make a new kind of educational environment for helping children learn “powerful ideas” partly through actually constructing them.

    Steve invited me to attend the iPad unveiling, and I think this was because he felt some connection between it and the Dynabook. But I was on my way to Spain and couldn’t make it.

    As for any actual connections to the idea, what has to primarily be examined and contrasted are the service models of the two devices.

    For example, is the iPad primarily for consumption or construction?

    Could someone who has a great idea for a constructive learning environment for children which might include a new kind of programming language, make it and put it on the iPad?

    Those are the questions that should be asked.



  • ianf

    Thanks, Alan, I much appreciate your candor and persistence of vision, and am glad for the opportunity to exchange views with you. I have to admit, I always viewed the Dynabook (and other visionary projects at large) primarily through their hardware dimension. This on the somewhat-logical assumption that, without the embodiment /or substrate/ of the idea in the hands of users, the vision would remain just that: a lovely paper construct (applicable even more to Memex… and to Ted Nelson’s Xanadu, all software and franchising). Which brings us down to the iPad, original focus of interest of this forum; you ask the very question most of us are thinking: WHAT IS IT FOR?

    “Is the iPad primarily for consumption or construction” – if PRIMARY be the distinction, then I suppose “web-companionship” be the answer. Except I am quite certain it has consciously been designed without explicit primary use: tablet of all trades, computer of none. A hybrid that’s inviting enough for largest possible use by target group General Public (at ease). So inviting and intimate that, after a while “the gadget disappears” and all that remains is the content[*]. This “art of hardware abstraction” seems to be the secret of Apple’s course under Steve Jobs second stewardship: minimal “bling” lashed to optimum functionality at a premium and sailing away from dangerous market reefs of bland commodities in the sea of cut-corner pricing.

    You end up with a wish for someone putting some “constructive learning environment for children” onto the iPad. I have no doubt that such will appear, and, with luck, one or a couple establish themselves as leading ipadplications in that field. At the same time, I am not quite content with that your underlying concept (also the very idea behind OLPC) of constructive learning, esp. among younger children, implying a computer.

    At MacWorld ’89 in SF I met a woman, whose child was enrolled in your Vivarium project [not sure if it was this one, http://www.beanblossom.in.us/larryy/VivHist.html – as there appear to have been more instances of them]. That sounded more like something I’d be comfortable with when I was in school, and had but grown-up books to still my intellectual hunger (I can not say much positive about my parents’ contribution to my education). Yet, from a distance, I am grateful for having had to slog through volumes that I now view as complete and utter waste of time, only because I didn’t then know any better. Had I been better served with access to a computer (had computers even existed in that my timespace)? I think not, because, without dedicated teachers or mentors, rare species both, pointing me in some CAE-constructive direction, I would have been even more lost than I recall. But the books that I immersed myself in didn’t require handholding, nor were they retributive… if I didn’t understand something, I could still go on reading with the book none the wiser. If this sounds like too passive an approach to self-betterment, then so be it; at least I stayed focused on the page. Had I had a computer to play with, it wouldn’t have been as easy.

    [*] http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10848
    David Carr of the New York Times on Charlie Rose talkshow
    From the transcript: “One of the things that you have to understand about this gadget is the gadget disappears pretty quickly. You’re looking into pure software.”

  • Taxi

    I haven’t caught up with all the comments but I just had the idea that perhaps Apple simply didn’t *believe* in the iPad until a year or so ago. perhaps they’ve been working on something for years, but only a year ago did it “click”, after which they were finally willing to commit serious resources to (eg the entire iwork team).

    in which case when the iphone came out they would have known about the new device but not been certain that it would ever see the light of day.

    just a thought.

  • ianf

    Apple is neither a religious organization, nor a cult, least of all inside their One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA HQ. Therefore “belief” doesn’t come into it. You do not gamble away lot$ of corporate money on industrial-scale product ideas only because you’ve suddenly (acc. to your one-year-old theory) “got belief.”

    I’ve speculated on iPad’s genesis in http://kensegall.com/blog/2010/02/ipad-a-long-time-coming-or-not/comment-page-1/#comment-1557 – and I stand by my statement that the tablet (under whatever internal name) was a result of a succession of feasibility studies in early days of the century, and either concurrent or predating the about-coming of the iPhone.