Technology on the Go
The History of the Laptop Computer
In this day and age, computer technology develops so rapidly that it seems there is no end to the possibilities of the miracle machine. Computers, once monstrous behemoths that could dominate whole rooms, can now be compacted into lightweight, portable notebook systems. The laptop computer was likely unimaginable when computers were first created more than 60 years ago, but today it features incredible technology in a very small package.
The Idea Is Born
The idea of a portable, technically complete computer system was first conceived of as early as the 1970s. While the technology of the laptop would not be feasible until the next decade, researchers at Xerox were experimenting with a type of portable computer, called the Dynabook, in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Wurster 2001). The Dynabook was intended to be a type of tablet computer (with a screen that did not fold down as the screens of most modern laptop computers do) that could run on nearly eternal battery life. Unfortunately, technology in the 1970s was not advanced enough to support this idea, and the concept of the Dynabook was never developed into an operational unit.
Portable computers first became commercially available in 1981 with the Osborne 1 system (Wilson 2006). This computer was about the size of a portable sewing machine, featured a tiny monitor, and could not be run on battery power. However, it revolutionized the business world, allowing business professionals to carry their computer data with them for the first time, even on airplanes. But due to the unwieldy size of the Osborne I and its inability to run on battery power, the system never really took off in the commercial market, though it would remain a vanguard of technological advances to come.
The first true laptop computer, which featured a flat display screen that could fold down on the keyboard, was introduced in 1982. Termed the GRID Compass, the computer featured the clamshell design that is still used for most modern laptops and could be run on battery power (Wilson 2006). However, its incredibly high price and IBM incompatibility limited its attractiveness in the commercial market, and it was used primarily by only the U.S. military and NASA.
Two other portable computers, introduced in 1983, would prove to be slightly more successful in the commercial market. The Compaq Portable and Epson HX-20 featured revolutionary changes that would make them much more viable for business use. While the Compaq system required AC power, it was the first portable computer to be compatible with the MS-DOS operating system and IBM software, allowing for ease in data transfer from desktop computers. The Epson HX-20, while fairly simple in its programming, was relatively inexpensive and could be run on rechargeable batteries.
By late 1983, the market for laptop computers was wide open, and traveling business people were hungry for improved technology. Correspondingly, this year saw the launch of one of the most popular early laptops, the Kyocera Kyotronic 85 (Wilson 2006). This product was first introduced in Japan and experienced relatively slow sales, but American computer engineers quickly saw its potential and began marketing it in the United States with substantially increased commercial success. The laptop featured an internal modem and several programs designed by Microsoft. It was also capable of running on regular AA batteries. Although it did not feature the clamshell design most common in today’s laptops, it was about the size of a standard paper notebook. The computer’s low price (as little as $300) and convenient portability made it a bestseller among journalists and correspondents.
Despite the relative success of some early laptops and the clamor by business people for more portable computers, laptop producers encountered some difficulty gaining overall popularity...
References: Wilson, James E. 2006. Vintage Laptop Computers: First Decade: 1980-89. Outskirts Press, Inc.
Wurster, Christian. 2001. Computers: An Illustrated History. Taschen.
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