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Gossip about the much-hyped Apple Tablet, due to drop on 27 January, isn’t anything new. In fact, chatter about an iSlate has been non-stop for years, well before we first laid eyes on the iPhone. So just how far back do Apple’s touchscreen machine dreams go? Join us on an odyssey of fax-friendly tablets and proddable phones as we trace the journey to the launch of the vaunted iTablet.

Apple touchscreen desk phone conceived

apple-phone-protoApple and AT&T team up to work on a phone with a touchscreen. No, not the iPhone, but this concept home phone. It was built by the chaps at Frog Design, with the young Steve Jobs having a hand in its creation too. The ideas was to use the same “design language”, called Snow White, which led to the original Apple Mac. The touch panel was designed for signing checks with a stylus ending the need to break out your cheque book. A revolutionary idea.

Newton development begins

Old-Newton-400Developers get to work on the Newton platform, which will lead to Apple unleashing a string of touchscreen PDAs throughout the 1990s. The idea was to create a gadget that could recognise your handwriting, act as your diary and blaze a trail for handheld computing. The development was hampered by hardware failure, slipped shipping dates and, eventually, a colossal price tag. Yet the idea would be something Apple, and Steve Jobs, would return to in years to come.

August 3 1993
Apple MessagePad MP100 orders begin

messagepad-mp100The first Newton product at last hits the shelves after years of development headaches and false starts. The handwriting tech in this first version was slated, as was the 30 hour battery life from a set of four AAA batteries, which would soon be replaced by AA versions in later models. Still, it did appear in Under Siege 2 as part of some ingenious product placement. Here’s hoping any handwriting recognition works like a peach out of the box when the iTablet is at last unleashed by Steve Jobs in San Francisco next week.

Apple Tablet: the ultimate rumour guide

February 27 1998
Apple Newton killed off

newton-2After a decade, the Apple Newton was finally given the last rights in early 1998. With Steve Jobs back at the big desk, the focus switched to the iMac and lining up the first generation of iPod which would seal Apple’s dominance of the 2000s. But Jobs’ love of all things touchscreen wouldn’t die, as we’d see over the following decade. It appears even then he was keen to get working on a next-gen version of the Newton. Too soon for an iSlate maybe, but something was in the offing.

23 August 2002
Apple outs OS X 10.2, Jaguar

inkInside, the then sparkling new version of Apple’s operating system packed in handwriting recognition tech, dubbed Inkwell, known also as Ink. Plug in a handwriting friendly gizmo and it’d pick up your scribbles. It led to a raft of tablet rumours then, doubtless with the planned Apple PDA in mind. It’s still available now in OS X Snow Leopard, just plug in the likes of a Wacom tablet and you’re away. Surely now though is the time to see it put to proper use in an iTablet.

7 June 2004
Jobs admits Apple PDA was in the works

Old-tablet-400Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital event in June 2004, Steve Jobs freely admitted that an Apple PDA had been good-to-go, before he pulled it back from the brink just as it was about to be released. It’s widely seen now that work on such a device, also dubbed the Safari Pad, led to the development of what we know today as the iPhone and iPod touch. Could any ideas be used in an iSlate? We’re sure we’ll find out when Steve takes the stage next Wednesday.

What if it’s not a Tablet? 10 alternatives up Apple’s sleeve

June 2005
Fingerworks acquired by Apple

fingerworksThe multitouch marvel that is the iPhone couldn’t have happened without Fingerworks. The company, founded by two University of Delaware students in 1998 produced TouchStream multitouch keyboards, before Apple took the two students, John Elias and Wayne Westerman, on board in 2005, with multitouch landing in the iPhone and iPod touch two years later. Want proof their tech will land in an iTablet? The Fingerworks website was pulled earlier this month, presumably to stop prying eyes seeing just what the pair were working on.

9 January 2007
Apple launches the iPhone

Old-iPhone-400After years of gossip, Apple at last launches the iPhone, swerving any Newton-esque failures to create the most lusted after gadget on the planet. The announcement was the biggest Apple had ever made, and the most hyped (until now that is). The core tech for the iPhone: multitouch gestures, apps, easy mobile web access, would not only cause rivals to scramble to the R&D labs for their latest products, it would also lay the foundation for a potential new iSlate or Apple Tablet.

10 July 2008
Apple App store launched

app-store-logoThe craze for apps began less than two years ago, with the App Store landing the day before the release of the iPhone 3G, which came preloaded with access to the online shop. Driving the demand for apps on all kinds of devices, an causing rivals to rush out their own versions, it would lay the groundwork for gossip about iPhone apps running seamlessly on a larger touchscreen gadget. Say, an iSlate.

17 March 2009
iPhone 3.0 previewed and SDK opened up

iphone-3.0-logoAdding in basics like MMS, cut, copy and paste and stereo Bluetooth were all welcomed with iPhone 3.0. But the biggest deal was Apple opening up the iPhone 3.0 SDK, allowing developers to start work on thousands of new apps, allowing access to mapping, push notifications, in-game purchasing and P2P gaming. All this led to the app boom, on which undoubtedly any Apple Tablet will thrive.

24 April 2009
App Store hits a billion downloads

billionOne billion downloads in just nine months saw Apple bragging about its rampant success, with iPhone 3.0 still not due out until June of the same year. 13-year-old Connor Mulcahey downloaded the billionth add-on, Bump, and won himself a MacBook Pro, iPod touch and $10,000 of iTunes vouchers. More importantly, it proved apps were big business and that surely another device for them would sell. Cue more Apple Tablet tittle tattle.

28 September 2009
Michael Tchao returns to Apple

Old-iPod-400One of the Newton’s key backers, Michael Tchao, pulled up a chair at Infinite Loop for the first time since 1994, causing gossip hounds to go loopy in anticipation of a new Apple Tablet. Tchao’s new job is Vice President of Product Marketing, having worked on the Nike+iPod products in recent years. His passion for the Newton line meant it was a dead cert an iSlate was in the offing.

The Apple Tablet: what’s it for?

18 November 2009
Apple wins key virtual keyboard patent

virtual-keyboardApple’s virtual keyboard on the iPhone paved the way for the natty numbers now found on myriad touchscreen blowers. But this new patent is for large virtual keyboards, with a new multitouch gesture called the Pen Grip. Handwriting recognition on an iTablet? Surely it’s no coincidence?

18 January 2010
Apple invites world to see its “latest creation”

apple-tablet-inviteFollowing years of false starts, hot gossip and stellar touchscreen gadgets, Apple invites the world’s media to see its “latest creation” on 27 January at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. The New York Times had already pegged the date, but now everyone knows that something big’s on the cards

27 January 2010
Apple tablet unveiled?

Apple-Tablet-Mock-hi-resWill Apple unveil the fabled iTablet on 27 January? It’s looking likely. But after almost thirty years of fooling around with touchscreen tech, the release of the Newton, a flirtation with the Safari Pad and the release of the iPhone, surely now is the time to bite the bullet and bring it out of the labs. What do you say, Steve? How about an iSlate to perk up our New Year?

Got any last minute Apple Tablet gossip? Then be sure to tell us now.

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