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The iPad's Progenitor — 123 Years Ago 123

scurtis writes "All technology evolves from cruder predecessors, and tablets are no different. People have been playing with some of the technologies underlying tablet PCs for over a century: In July 1888, for example, inventor Elisha Gray received a US patent for an electrical stylus device that captured handwriting. According to his original application, this 'telautograph' leveraged telegraph technology to send a handwritten message between a sending and receiving station."
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The iPad's Progenitor — 123 Years Ago

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  • by DWMorse ( 1816016 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:25PM (#35948028) Homepage
    I smell a lawsuit. Moses had the first tablets, right? I'm sure he at least copyrighted the term "tablet". Pay up.
    • Till the Ark of the Covenant turns up that prior art can't be proven.

      • Re:Lawsuit! (Score:5, Funny)

        by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:54PM (#35948280)

        Till the Ark of the Covenant turns up that prior art can't be proven.

        We have top people looking into it. Top people

        • Re:Lawsuit! (Score:4, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @08:06PM (#35948390)

          Pretty sure "looking into it" is what got all those people's faces melted off.

        • Till the Ark of the Covenant turns up that prior art can't be proven.

          We have top people looking into it. Top people

          I see you altered the quote to be politically correct.

          • Crap, you are right. I couldn't remember the exact quote so I looked it up online. Apparently I failed.

          • Till the Ark of the Covenant turns up that prior art can't be proven.

            We have top people looking into it. Top people

            I see you altered the quote to be politically correct.

            Yeah, fancy fucking with a classic quote like that, what's the world coming to? Next thing you know the liberals will make homosexuality compulsory for school children, and burn honest Christians at the stake for calling a spade a spade.

            "There is no freedom without the freedom to flog a man's own slaves to death" - Thomas Jefferson

        • by Hylandr ( 813770 )

          You mis-quoted, that's Top Men

          - Dan.

    • by Seumas ( 6865 )

      I think this Elisha Gray guy was more than a parable, though.

    • Come on Apple thought about it. Everyone knows Moses' tablets were rectangular with a curvy arc for the top side. OK OK not everyone. Only those who saw "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B DeMille but the principle is the same. The bottom corners were not rounded. That is why Apple patented the "rectangle with rounded corner" tablet.
      • No.

        Apple had to go with having a single button on the front because those 'original' tablets had zero. Once the patent expires, then no more button!

      • by Hylandr ( 813770 )

        If Moses weren't holding them wrong maybe the people wouldn't have gone off and built that idol.

        - Dan.

    • Moses had the first tablets, right?

      Maybe true, but they had poor durability and no back or recovery... []

    • Uh Oh, it looks like legal action has been taken concerning this case already.

      To Apple IncSTOP
      It has come to my attention that you are infringing on my patent for the autotelegraph deviceSTOP
      Prepare to relinquish all patent claims concerning the iPad device to my estate for verificationSTOP

      Sent from my iAutotelegraph deviceFULLSTOP
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What BS. An ancient handwriting recorder has as much to do with the iPad as does pencil and paper.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Personally I find this offensive. The article says it is so simple that a grandmother can use it. I am a 49 yo feminist grandmother and C programmer. I think I could use something more complex.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I searched the article (online and pdf) for the word simple or grand and found neither. I also think I've since this post before. I have no idea who wasted mod points on an AC that seems to be trolling.
        • YMBNH, this comes up every now and then, it's a classic troll as it manages to wind up so many varieties of people at once.
    • Never stopped a patent troll...

    • iPad has nothing to do with handwriting

      True, and interesting. If you weren't a coward, I'd give you a point. Back when "Palm Pilots," The Newton and their ilk arrived nearly twenty years ago, it was all about handwriting capture. I remember university profs that would write in Palm Graffiti (Google it) on the blackboards. Today, no one writes with a stylus on their tablets...

      • by gerddie ( 173963 )
        Actually, I only found out now, but:

        In 2008 an unauthorized version of Graffiti was introduced for iOS (iPhone and iPad) devices. An Android version was released in 2010 by ACCESS CO., LTD. of Japan, which acquired the rights to Graffiti when it acquired PalmSource, Inc. in 2005.

        Source []

    • What BS. An ancient handwriting recorder has as much to do with the iPad as does pencil and paper.

      Mr. Gray's device transmitted an image of the writing electronically. (sp?) A pen and paper could record it. Or charcoal on a wall...

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:29PM (#35948062) the mid-80's, we used a similar device to send weather observations from the air traffic control tower I worked at (FYV) to the flight service station across the field. It would literally duplicate every stroke you made on the other end. IIRC, we called it the "electrowriter."

    A few years later, they replaced it with a rebadged TI-99A that was "state of the art" for the FAA (and probably cost them thousands of dollars) where we could magically type in our ATIS report, and have them appear at the other end on a little amber monitor with attached thermal printer. High times those were!

  • Apple's lawyers are filing multiple lawsuits as we type these comments!
  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:33PM (#35948092)
    I mean, seriously, this is more like a FAX technology than a tablet PC if you ask me.
    • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:46PM (#35948194)
      Except the fax was invented even earlier, 1843 by Scottish physicist Alexander Bain. It had a light-sensitive element on pendulum for sending on telegraph line, and printer for receiving.
    • by jessehager ( 713802 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @08:06PM (#35948396)
      Well, Telautograph (the company that made these) was bought out by OMNIFax (which later became part of Danka). I used to fix these machines. And they were in use at least to the mid 1990's. Hospitals used them to send prescriptions from the ER to the pharmacy. This allowed a doctor to write out a prescription and have it simultaneously written out in the pharmacy in their own handwriting. The machines were pure analog and were a pain to adjust and maintain. A pair of rheostats encoded the pen position and a switch sensed when it was pressed to the paper. The signal was encoded and sent to the receiver where a pair of servo solenoids replicated the movement of the pen.
      • by rs79 ( 71822 )

        I worked at Telautograph in 1988 to 1990. The telewriters with the articulated arms gave way to the fax machines of the 60s and they were replace by the Omninote which was a small desktop terminal with a 2 line vacuum flourescent display, keyboard and small printer, used to send messages *over the power line*, so, for use inside one building. I did try to get them to send via uucp but they were not interested in that in 88. They had pretty interesting network software, if a node couldn't communicate with an

    • I mean, seriously, this is more like a FAX technology than a tablet PC if you ask me.

      More like a pantograph or auto-pen.

      It would have been like standing at the side of the sender as he wrote out his message. You can't get more trustworthy than that.

      The transmitter consists of a stylus which is mechanically connected, through two sets of levers and appropriate swivel joints, to the contact arms of two variable rheostats in such a way that the horizontal and vertical components of the stylus movement are translated into corresponding current variations in two lines connecting the receiver. At the receiver the variations in the line currents produce similar movements in two coils or "buckets" within a magnetic field. The movements of these coils are communicated through a system of levers to a writing pen which reproduces the movements of the sending stylus.

      margins : telautography [] [The Gray and Tiffany patents with high quality illustrations and photographs]

      Gray displayed his telautograph invention in 1893 at the Chicago Columbian Exposition and sold his share in the telautograph shortly after that. Gray was also chairman of the International Congress of Electricians at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

      Elisha Gray []

      It marks a strange turn-around from Bell's famous - half-legendary - demonstration of the telephone at the 1876 Centennial Expo in Philadelphia - where Gray, a founding engineer of Western Union, had been a mere specator on holi

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's funny how folk nowadays think that the pads/tablets are something new and innovative. Go Corp had a pen based, handwriting recognition tablet with an innovative GUI on the market back in 1990. However, it was a classic example of a technology looking for a market...which hasn't seemed to develop until 2 decades later.
    • the GRiDPad by GRiD Systems Corporation beats that, introduced in 1989. it ran MS-DOS.
    • well lets take a look at what previsou generations of tablets lacked.

      (1)wireless networking(3G or Wifi)
      (2)Broad adoption of said wireless networking meaning you can go many places and connect.
      (3)Battery life, while some ran well on regular batteries in general you didn't get very far.
      (4)Poor screen quality, sure an 80 by 180 character display might seem awesome, but until you start to use it you realize just how small it is compared to a sheet of paper.
      (5)Weight. components were large and weighed a lot the

      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        But the point is that the concept was similar.

        • In concept, locomotives and automobiles are similar - they are self-propelled vehicles. In practice, nobody wants a mega-car with a steam engine, so you had to wait until internal combustion came around to get one.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Sure, but nevertheless, that means the modern pad is simply a result of a slow but steady evolution of the basic technology to catch up with 30 year old (or more) concepts. Not some modern revolutionary thing worthy of a zillion new patents.

    • by six11 ( 579 )

      Jean Ward has a compilation of historical references of pen computing []. If you're interested in a overview of the past ~100 years of pen computing, check it out.

  • All Apple's iPad patents are invalid!
  • It's annoying when people make statements about how they "predicted" something 10 years ago, or someone "invented" something 100 years ago, trying to diminish the accomplishments of what people are doing today.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Heh. I had the opposite reaction: it's annoying when the modern ego gets so huge that big chunks of history have to be recast as before-their-time flops that all lead up to [our new product, the best thing ever, GO BUY IT].

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      or they could just be trying to increase clicks and ad-revenue by inserting iSomething into every tech article, no matter how remotely (ir)relevant.

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by guspasho ( 941623 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:50PM (#35948230)

    Am I the only one annoyed that it's obvious from the summary that this device is nothing even remotely like an iPad? How is this even news?

    • You aren't. We need a word for this kind of article. I mean, the device in the article is cool on its own, but this is total crap. It should be good enough to just do an article on it; aaaaaaaagh.
      • We need a word for this kind of article.

        How about... "padded". It's both a pun and descriptive inasmuch as a useless comparison was added to the article, probably to get more views.

        • I like it, but it leaves out the angle that the article would probably have never been written if it weren't for the opportunity to pad it. Maybe paddified? Padtastic? Bogopadded? (Bogus + padded)
    • Soon stories on gene splicing or astrophysics will have iPad tie-ins. iPads might not sell, but they draw eyes!
      • Soon stories on gene splicing or astrophysics will have iPad tie-ins. iPads might not sell, but they draw eyes!

        I always like the ones about how iPads are helping to cure cancer, because, er, some cancer doctors are carrying around iPads to write notes on.

      • iPads might not sell

        Since when do iPads not sell? As much as I personally find them useless, they do seem to sell.

    • by drolli ( 522659 )

      Its also flat. Tomorrow: Device similar to e-book reader invented in the 17th century.

    • by lxs ( 131946 )

      This is indeed nothing like an iPad. This had functional stylus input.

  • AFAIK it only works with fingers.

  • by spagthorpe ( 111133 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @07:56PM (#35948294)

    The iPad doesn't do anything with handwriting.

  • I remember when the Newton first came out and there was a huge line at some trade show (probably Comdex). Word quickly filtered back that the handwriting recognition sucked balls and made it pretty pointless. People started wandering off. I didn't bother waiting and never saw a Newton in the wild. Oddly enough, I saw tons of Palms and I remember you had to learn some quirky shorthand to "write" on it and everyone seemed to embrace that concept despite the earlier refusal to learn how to write on a Newto

    • This is because the Newton was marketed as having handwriting recognition while the Palm was marketed as having a system to write with using a stylus. The Newton was also supposed to learn your handwriting, so over time the errors were supposed to become less frequent, but in my experience that didn't work either. (The second generation Newton was supposed to be better, but I never got around to using it.)

    • by Hodapp ( 1175021 )

      I used a Newton eMate for awhile and its handwriting recognition was actually the best on anything I'd ever used. However, other things - such as the device being mind-bogglingly slow (though I suppose the Newton MessagePads were fine) and any sort of good syncing with a modern computer being at best a convoluted mess - made it less than useful for me.

  • to become a patent troll. He could of set up shop in East Texas.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @08:38PM (#35948568)
    I thought that the iPad's progenitor was the Etch A Sketch.
    • I thought that the iPad's progenitor was the Etch A Sketch.

      But only one []of them can be used for serious artistic work.

  • C'mon now, trying to find a parallel between a modern computing device like an iPad and a patent involving the telegraph is a bit like trying to give the caveman who invented the wheel partial credit for the design of a Toyota Corolla. Bit too far of a reach if you ask me.

    Besides, damn near everything we "invent" these days was birthed out of another idea or seven. Of course the hard proof of this is when you take your "original" invention to the manufacturer only to find out some patent troll already has

    • Wasn't it the Incas and the Maya who never developed the wheel? It is not an obvious invention, especially as it is useless on its own - you need roads or rails to use it efficiently. "cavemen" didn't invent the wheel - the Stonehenge builders are believed to have used round stones or logs to move the large stones, and they had quite an advanced Bronze Age society. There is a case that the inventor of the actual wheel - with a hub and axle - (and there must actually have been a first one) should have partia
      • Actually it wasn't roads that made them useful. The Inca and Maya had roads; they had empires. What they didn't have was animals to draw the carts. What good is a carriage or chariot without a horse, a cart without a donkey, or a wagon without an ox? The first bicycle wasn't invented until the 1800's.
  • Anyone remember those things? You know, the ones that scanners and email replaced? This thing was the progenitor of *those*, not the iPad.
  • Telautographs were used well into the 1970s. You write or draw at one end, and the pen at the other end follows. That's all they do. Railroads used to use them for train orders, which had to be signed. They have zero relationship with the iPad. (The Newton, which had pen input, maybe.)

    Early telautographs suffered from the usual problem of pre-vacuum tube electrical devices - they needed signal amplification. That was really hard to do before tubes, let alone transistors. There's a long history of early

  • Although this is only like an iPad in the most ostensible sense, I still find it amazing for its time, given what it can do. Really, we still don't have a fax device (i.e. one that you write on and it prints to paper on the other side) that can do anything like this. Sure, we have email, scanners, etc., but this sort of device could be really useful for when you have to fill out a lot of hand-written forms and such remotely. Despite the advent of PDFs and other formats with fillable fields, some forms in

  • If you see a stylus, they blew it.
  • Ipad whoring.

  • that's why patents expire!

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor