This sketch from 43 years ago shows kids playing a video game on their "iPad"

Originally published at:


That’s also known as Prior Art and may help someone somewhere fight off patent trolls.


It used a stylus because even then they knew that using your finger to write is downright stupid. Thank Apple for their “innovation”


The first time I watched Douglas Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos I was both blown away by it and also incredibly sad that we’ve accomplished so little since 1968 in software.

Stewart Brand was part of that demo (I think he was a camera operator).


I, too have seen precursor technology.
In 1980 or sometime around then I saw what can only be described as a blackberry device.
Same size and shape except it had “IBM” on the front.
At the time, IBM had a engineering arm here, before they started selling pc’s to the public (that one could afford)
(if I remember right the starting package price for a 386 system was around $30k.


Dynabook is shitware with no developer support and their update schedule is laughable! And another thing…


iPad + pareidolia = iPareidolia?


I once had half an hour to wait on a platform for a train, listening to music on my Net.MD Minidisc player. While doing so, I started imagining what advances in technology would change my portable music listening habits next, and decided it would be really cool if we could store compressed music on very small hard drives or solid state memory, either downloaded from an Internet-based music provider or through peer-to-peer networking using WiFi or cellular data connections. I should sue Apple, really…


Most of our modern computing environment was a product of the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of work was done on interaction, programming, networking, security and so on. When personal computers became popular in the late 1970s and 1980s, just about all of this research was dropped on the floor as the goal became producing small, cheap, insecure, standalone computers. It was like AI winter, except it was systems research winter. Language development, OS development, security research, networking research all went into deep freeze, and they stayed there until the internet began to break stuff in earnest in the 1990s.

Nowadays, Silicon Valley is full of security and system management startups, but there were decades when all of that stuff had been anticipated and put on hold for a generation. In fact, if you are looking for an exciting new idea for a startup, go to the engineering library of a top rated school and look over the thesis titles in the CS or EE department. You’ll find just about everything you’d find today with some of the names changed, and you’ll find a lot of stuff that would be really useful and likely profitable today.

There’s a reason Silicon Valley doesn’t like to hire older developers. It’s hard to convince them that today’s exciting new idea is actually new, especially when they start reminiscing about the same thing from 40-50 years ago.


It should be noted that Alan Kay is actually super disappointed with the iPad.


The big thing for development of the Dynabook was the Smalltalk system. It kind of bypassed micro computers, being too big for the 8-bit machines of the time, and was the private domain of a few big companies; a really cool thing, but you can’t have it, neener!

But as it turns out, Smalltalk never really went away, and now you can has a Smalltalk, free open source. It’s now called Squeak. (There’s a subset called Scratch that’s pre-installed on Raspbian for the Pi.)

This is a poor characterisation. Having worked on a number of earlier tablet machines over the years it is nowhere near that simple-minded; one part of the problem is that capacitive sensors weren’t very practical before then; they existed but we had many problems with them. Another issue is that because of that, most attempted tablet machines ended up with resistive sensors (or a few attempts at accoustic etc) which really needed styluses. And of course, it is a pretty good bet that virtually all users will actually have at least one finger available, whereas it is a sucker bet that most users will lose a stylus. Remember how there were bulk packs of them for Palm Pilots?

Using a stylus is a good idea for some usages of a tablet. It’s a less good idea for others. Being able to do either is best.

1 Like

Exactly. I’ve been Smalltalking since 1982, built tablet machines (1989, 1995, 1999), banking systems, war simulations, realtime OS, games, text/idea processors, etc etc. And I did the Pi version of Scratch, as it happens.

During that time I’ve seen dozens of “ooh look, we made a thing like Smalltalk but better because it looks like C so nobody needs to learn anything new” type languages appear, and mercifully, mostly disappear. So far not one of them has really solved any problem not already solved in Smalltalk. Not one of them seemed to understand that new semantics may be best served with new syntax. The success of one or two of them mostly illustrates how dumb the software industry managed to become.
If you are at all interested in languages you ought to at least learn a bit about it.

Alan has continuously pushed to make software and education more suited to its purpose. See for a fairly large list of papers on the work he and his staff have produced. See vimeo/youtube for a long list of videos of hist talks and demos over the years.


If you remember the Tom Hanks film “Big”, he pitches the idea of a video comic book where you buy cartridges to put in new comics, like a video game. That was the first thing I thought of when the iPad came out.

1 Like


We had eight bit home computers by the late 1970s. It wasn’t that much of a stretch to imagine tablet style devices. One homebrew system from that time used a totally graphical UI, with big chunky pixels. People in the 70s knew exactly where all this was going and did their best with the available technology and money to make it happen.

edit: @SamWinston yeah there was the example from Star Trek as well.

What he got most wrong was two kids sitting in the grass.


Yeah my son has two ipads, an ipone and a macbook. He uses them for school (assignments, etc) but spends a lot of time watching videos and playing games on them. I would love for him to code on his devices but in truth there is no reason for him to do that. As a child I had to code my own games. Now, there is so much free content that people don’t have to create their own.

As much as I dislike apple devices, the problem is that freely available content is making it unnecessary for kids to be makers.


I was surprised at Apple not using more Smalltalk, because they were one of that small group of companies with a license for it. It seemed strange* from them to suffer from Not Invented Here after taking everything else!

** as in slightly pregnant with elephants.