Tablets: An origin story (pictures)

Tablets have come a long way, baby. Join us as we take a look at the slate's humble beginnings.


Xiomara Blanco

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A-tisket, a-tablet

Steve Jobs once said, "All of us use laptops and smartphones now. The question has arisen lately, is there room for a third category of device in the middle?"

Turns out, there is.

The release of the Apple iPad helped catapult the tablet into mainstream success, despite previous innovators hoping to be the first to sow that ground.

Click through the slideshow to look at how tablets got to where they are now and what we expect from them in the future.

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Remember Netbooks?

Let's start at the beginning of the beginning. Manufacturers recognized that a portable device for simple tasks like browsing the Internet and checking email would please the people.

Enter the Netbook. These miniature-size laptops didn't pack a big performance punch, but they were cheap and compact. Needless to say, the ultra-affordable, ultrasmall laptop craze didn't last very long.

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What about the Tablet PC?

The Tablet PC, which integrated a touchscreen display with a keyboard, launched in 2001 and remained a niche product for the entire decade. It was like a large Palm Pilot with a keyboard.

The original iPad, released in April 2010, earned the mainstream success that eluded the old crop of Tablet PCs, and  it quickly rendered them extinct.

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Dull design

The iPad is the Marilyn Monroe of tablets. Before it stunned the world with its sleek design, the tablet scene looked rather homely.

The JooJoo tablet, pictured next to an iPhone, was an OG slate that ran its own custom OS. Released shortly before both the Apple tablet and the explosion of Android-powered devices, let's just say it didn't stand a chance.

5 of 11 James Martin/CNET

The creation of a workstation

An onscreen keyboard is now standard on tablets, but at first it was a rare adjustment. "Will typing on a screen replicate the effectiveness of a real keyboard?", I'm assuming our dutiful CNET editors asked.

While some users have adjusted, tablet lineups like the Microsoft Surface and Asus Transformer offer proprietary keyboard accessories for traditionalists. Accessory manufacturers also make supplemental Bluetooth keys for those who prefer a more tactile approach to typing.

6 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

Design is king

Sure, the Apple iPad impressed with a hearty app store and swift performance worth splurging on, but the Apple slate stays relevant five years later, thanks to its consistent attention to a slim and sleek aesthetic.

Other high-end tablets, like the Samsung Tab S and Dell Venue 8 7000, also place high value in fashionably thin construction and lightweight build, but have yet to meet the success of the Apple titan. Though, despite its name (and reputation), the Apple iPad Air 2 isn't the lightest tablet around.

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Choose your OS

Android tablets offer a more customizable OS and a different visual experience than iOS. Though the Google platform once trailed behind Apple in available apps, the GooglePlay store was quick to give the App Store a runs for its money.

In an obvious turn of events, Windows tablets run Windows. For productivity-geared individuals, these tablets are portable godsends. The latest models run Windows 10, however Microsoft originally tried to make a tablet-friendly variation, called Windows RT. (We don't talk about that anymore, though.)

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Pick a size, any size

The Dell Streak debuted with a 5-inch screen and a design less than 0.5-inch thick. These days, that's what we call a phablet.

The line between tablet and smartphone can get blurry, with phone screens these days stretching as big as 6 inches. Anything 7 inches and above is considered more of a tablet, as models tend to range between 7 and 13 inches, though some might still boast LTE capabilities.

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Samsung Galaxy Dynasty

The Samsung Galaxy is a wide and wild group of gadgets that include a long lineage of tablets. Known for consistently churning out a new series every couple of months, Samsung has released dozens of slates since 2010.

Each lineup usually features a variety of sizes, and sometimes they even include a stylus. The current Tab S models, which come in 8.4- and 10.5-inch sizes, are two of the best movie-watching tablets, thanks to their spectacular screens.

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Budget buys

Archos was the first to offer an Android tablet that was priced under $200. This trend in tablets still exists, with the category of budget Android models consistently emerging with new members.

Budget tablets weren't always worth picking up. Like many tablet forebearers, they were plagued by performance issues, making it easy for them to be made obsolete as soon as the next big thing came out.

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Looking to the future

What's next for tablets? We'll have to wait and see, but there are a few safe bets.

Mobile processors are becoming faster and more powerful, so I expect improvements in performance capabilities. Tablets are also differentiating themselves with fancy features, so keep an eye out on what will make your next (or first) slate unique.

Better camera quality should be in the pipeline, due to the popularity of selfies, video conferencing, and people who uninhibitedly take tablet photos in public. However, considering the shoddy quality of most rear cameras, that feature is undoubtedly a low priority for most manufacturers.

If tablets get any thinner, they'll be holograms. Actually, that's probably where tablet design will eventually lead to, but, until then, I'd happily settle for a rear camera that makes busting out a tablet in public worth the embarrassment.

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