How Arthur C Clarke and other writers predicted tablet computing and the iPad

Tomorrow People iPadArthur C Clarke was one of those scientists and science fiction writers who made a pretty decent fist of getting his technological predictions right. Not only did he foretell general trends such as flexible working and the future nature of work in cities, he also got a number of details right, too. His screenplay for the Stanley Kubrick  directed 2001: A Space Odyssey featured astronauts using something uncannily like an iPad. Indeed, so uncanny was the resemblance that when Apple came to have their long-running global patent tussle with Samsung following the 2010 launch of the iPad, the film was cited by Samsung as evidence that Apple hadn’t come up with the idea of a rectangular screened device at all. The judge ruling in the US case ultimately dismissed this specific argument but did conclude that other real world examples of devices would be admissible.

Uhura tabletIn fact, a number of films and television programmes had featured an iPad like device. The original Star Trek series featured an ‘electronic clipboard’ that was updated for later reboots of the franchise. A now largely forgotten British children’s sci-fi series from 1973 called The Tomorrow People (above) featured a device uncannily similar to a modern tablet (and cited by Samsung in its US court case with Apple). And the idea again popped in the 2004 Pixar animation The Incredibles.IPad incredibles

A full description of the 2001 ‘Newspad’ is presented in Arthur C Clarke’s novelisation of the film which fleshes out the prescient thinking behind the device.

“When Floyd had tired of official reports, memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one, he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers. He knew the codes of the more important ones by heart and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.

Each had its own two-digit reference. When he punched that, a postage-sized rectangle would expand till it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he finished he could flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.”

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