Former Employees: Apple Tablet In The Works Since “At Least 2003”

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Apple has been working on a tablet computer since 2003, according to both anonymous and unnamed former Apple employees and executives quoted by The New York Times. The development work has been in the form of many different projects, most of which have been 86'd by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

The comments came in an article looking at the broader topic of tablet computers in general, and the way in which rumors of tablets from Apple and Microsoft have captivated the (tech-oriented) public's attention. While some of that attention, and perhaps even Apple's newfound focus, can be attributed to the success of the iPhone, former Apple employees told The Times that Apple has been looking at the form factor since 2003.

Heretofore, however, all of those projects have run up against The Steve Jobs Wall and his persnickety attention to one little detail: What use is a tablet computer for anything other than surfing the Web in the bathroom?

Between such subtle points and less-than-subtle issues of physics, none of them went very far inside Apple's development labs. Joshua A. Strickon, a former Apple engineer, told The Times that a project he was working on, "Couldn't be built. The battery life wasn't long enough, the graphics performance was not enough to do anything and the components themselves cost more than $500."

Despite such problems, however, it would appear that the form factor had enough favor to continue getting new opportunities at an Apple life.

For instance, one unnamed former Apple executive said, "I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don't know where I would fit that into my life. Those are the debates that have been happening inside Apple for quite some time."

Today, the rumor mill has been in a full court press touting the notion that Apple will release some form of tablet device in 2010, which suggests that the twin demons of what it will be used for and getting components at the right price and performance ratio have been conquered.

That said, The Mac Observer's advice has always been that a new Mac/iPhone/iPod/unannounced-Tablet device on your desk is worth two on a rumor site, so take even the Times' Apple former employee sources with a grain of salt.


Bryan Chaffin

Not much in the way of a surprise in this story, but it’s very interesting to have all those years and years of tablet rumors effectively confirmed.

That said, there are who knows how many projects in the works at any given time in Apple’s labs. A project in the labs is just not the same thing as a product on the way at Apple.

This also reminds me of the comment Tim Cook made about how Apple was just as proud of the products it passed on - meaning being proud of the decision to make that pass - as it was on the products it has shipped.


So right after MS’s first attempt at a tablet:

John Martellaro

I’ve always thought that the iTablet/iPad/iPod Super touch would be a neat way to both capture a larger audience (people who hate their PCs) and acquire better control of security by using the iPhone OS infrastructure.

I think a lot of PC users, when then get home from work, just want to have a fun delightful tablet for surfing, minor e-mail, newspapers, Hulu, etc.

Not everyone needs a giant home screen and Microsoft Exchange and Outlook.
Nor do they want to spend $5K on a high end game PC.


@John Martellaro, interesting that you mention Hulu. I’m not sure what the requirements for web-based Hulu are, but the desktop app requires a 2GHz dual-core machine with 2GB of RAM, which might be a bit much to hope for in a tablet.

John Martellaro

Those specs for Hulu sound like the minimum for a tablet, designed to run HD video, not the max.

What does 1 GB of DDR2 RAM go for in quantity, OEM, not retail, US$15??

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

What use is a tablet computer for anything other than surfing the Web in the bathroom?

That’s essentially the same question they faced at Ohio Art in 1960 when they were debating whether to license the Etch A Sketch. The rest is history.

Lee Dronick

There is a place for tablets. I think it was on the MacObserver when someone mentioned it as replacement for a clipboard in hospital ward or a similar use. Bring up patient’s chart, enter vitals, maybe send a photo of the wound or whatever to the doctor. Would it replace a MacBook or iMac for such things as page layout, or Illustrator, probably not because cursor control wouldn’t be precise enough. However, people will find all sorts of uses it that we may not be considering.

Dean Lewis

If you’re talking about the Newton, it was a perfectly good device with excellent software, handwriting recognition and more, but it wasn’t marketed well so that it made it out of the circle of geeks and nerds who love gadgets and into the hands of a general populace that felt they suddenly needed it. Whether a tablet can do the same as the iPod and Touch/iPhone (make a larger group of people of varying types feel they need and have a use for it) I’m not so sure. I certainly would love a tablet, and I want one more than I want an iPhone, but I’m a nerdy geeky guy…


I don’t lug around a notebook computer and I’m not going to lug around a tablet.  The iPhone fits in my pocket and is with me ALL THE TIME.

Continue improving the iPhone, Apple, and make it the most powerful computer/phone/camera/etc. you can carry in your pocket.

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