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The History of the Laptop

Computer technology has evolved far beyond the mainframes of the late 1950s. In 1949, a Popular Mechanics magazine declared that all computers in the future would weigh no more than one and a half tons. Little did they know that computers would become portable featherweight machines popularly known as laptops. Naysayers dispute the origin of portable computers; however, most agree that it first became feasible in the 1970s. In 1968, Alan Kay of Xerox PARC brainstormed the idea of a “personal, portable information manipulator.” Kay proposed his idea further in the abstract paper entitled “the Dynabook.” This became the hallmark and inspiration of the first commercially available portable computers.

In 1973, IBM created the Special Computer APL Machine Portable, the first portable computer prototype, based off the IBM PALM processor. After two years passed, IBM created the Portable PC 5100, the first microcomputer, which weighed 55 pounds. The IBM 5100 ran independently without a heavy processor, which paved the way for future portable computer developments. Many historians consider Adam Osborne to be the founder of the first laptop. In 1981, he created the Osborne 1, a portable computer that featured a built-in computer screen, a folding mechanism, and a handle. Its success only lasted for a short time. In 1982, the birth of the clam-shell design came with the GriD Compass 1101. The GriD Compass 1101 sold at $8,150 and was only used by high fliers and public institutions. Shortly thereafter, the Gavilan SC emerged as one of the first three portable computers to fight for its spot as the first laptop ever created. Despite Osborne and GriD's contributions, many believe that the Gavilan SC was the first functional laptop to hit the commercial market. The former two did not encompass floppy disk drives or batteries, making them less complete than the Gavilan SC.

1984 saw the emergence of the user-friendly laptop. The TRS-80 Model 200 became the first laptop to feature folding halves. Hewlett-Packard released the HP 110 later in the year, which featured a 5 megahertz processor, clear screen display, and a carrying case. Needless to say, the HP 110 became the most popular of all laptops for the next three years. In 1987, the first attempts at creating a touch screen developed from the merging of laptops with an electronic stylus. In 1989, Apple introduced the Macintosh Portable, featuring a high-definition screen and 16 megahertz processor. The Macintosh Portable weighed 16 pounds, making it bulky and difficult to carry. In 1991, Apple and Sony collaborated to reinvent the Macintosh Portable to a lightweight, smaller version. The Macintosh Portable's low price tag made it more compelling to buy for consumers as evidenced by its track record. In fact, the Macintosh Portable became Apple's best-selling laptop for a decade before the inception of the Titanium Book.

In 1999, Apple emerged as a prominent force in the desktop and laptop industry. The introduction of the iBook became the first laptop to feature a wireless connection. Fast forward into the 21st century, laptops have become lighter, smaller, faster, and more aesthetically appealing. In addition, laptops have capabilities that no one would have imagined fifty years ago. Apple continues to dominate the laptop industry with its impressive MacBook. Laptops as a whole have introduced touch screen features, which have resulted in the development of Tablet PCs that operate using a stylus, keyboard, or mouse. Many professionals use Tablet PCs, because of its effectiveness in displaying presentations, taking notes, and creating graphic images. In addition, the laptop has led to the development of netbooks, or mini-laptops, that offer basic computer functions. Many speculate that the future development of netbooks and Tablet PCs will determine the fate of laptops.

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