Knight Ridder newspaper chain employee Roger Fidler headed the company’s Information Design Lab in the early 1990s. The lab worked on a variety of projects dealing with the future of journalism, but one particular prototype they produced and featured in a 1994 video entitled The Tablet Newspaper: A Vision For The Future has been brought back into the public spotlight: The video might as well have been a promotional infomercial for the iPad nearly two decades later.
The iPad’s touchscreen functionality and wireless capability is integrated into the Fidler prototype’s black radius cornered shell, and indeed to the casual observer, Knight-Ridder’s Tablet and Apple’s iPad, which premiered sixteen years later, could be mistaken for the same device. The fact that Apple just happened to have an office in the same Colorado building at the same time as Fidler’s lab was a coincidence… or was something more sinister afoot?
Were Tablets Public Knowledge in the 20th Century?
In the high-profile patent violation case between Apple and Samsung, Fidler is a paid expert witness to prove Samsung’s assertion that the concept was out in the public sphere long before either company developed their versions. Apple is suing the South Korean company claiming that the Galaxy tablet is a straight lift of ideas and inspiration from their iPad tablet. Samsung is countering by bringing to the fore Fidler’s video, which may be key to the judge either agreeing with Apple and granting $2.5 billion in damages plus a permanent ban on Samsung’s U.S. sales of tablets and smartphones, or siding with Samsung and finding Apple’s patents invalid in order to award enormous damages for the Cupertino company’s infringement.
“Ridiculous” Claims by Lawyers “Smoking Crack”
The claims and counterclaims have tested the patience of presiding judge Lucy Koh, whom has called the time taken in sorting out the case “unreasonable” and “ridiculous,” and at one point notably wondered whether the lawyers were “smoking crack.” No matter what the outcome, the lawyers will be billing their $1,000 per hour rates well into the future, as this case is most certainly headed for an appeals court. The U.S. case is not alone as there are similar cases in several other countries.
Star Trek’s PADD Was a 1987 iPad/Galaxy/Surface
There was a far more visible video portrayal of the iPad circulating seven full years before the Knight-Ridder Tablet, and that was the PADD on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The crew of the USS Enterprise D used a variety of tablets, some of which seem to be exact duplicates of the seven to ten inch tablets of today.
Those tablets were not strictly functional, as they were only designed to be set props, but the functionality is essentially identical to an iPad, Galaxy or Surface tablet of a quarter century later. The actions of Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge when he is peering into some dilithium crystal chamber or isolinear circuit and using the touchscreen on his PADD tablet to derive diagnostic information are essentially identical to any tablet user in 2012 reading a magazine or surfing the web.
A Tablet Was Marketed in 1987: By Apple
At the same time as the Trek crew was zipping around the “Galaxy,” a real company was working on a real tablet. Although due to the restrictions of the technology of 1987, the screen was black and white (or black and green to be exact), and the onus was on using the device with a stylus. It also incorporated many of the characteristics that would later be identified with the iPad, such as gesture control and automatic landscape to portrait reconfiguration. This forward-looking device was the Newton, developed at a cost of well over $100 million by… Apple.
However, Fidler claims that he devised the first conceptualization of the tablet in an essay published in 1981.