We are certainly in the computer age; the laptop is purely a manifestation of the desire to have data and information at our fingertips wherever we are in the world. But while early computers were gargantuan, in most cases taking up entire rooms, today it is possible to have the same computing power in a device the size of a book. Computer technicians from sixty years ago would be astonished at the size and power of the modern laptop; but what is the history behind this most convenient and usable device?
It was in the seventies when the idea for a laptop was first conceived, it was another decade however before technology would catch up with the idea. The first forays into portable computing occurred in 1981 with the release of the Osborne 1 System. It was a device about the size of a sewing machine although the size of the screen was tiny and instead of a battery it required a mains power outlet to operate. Despite its downsides however business professionals soon realised the benefit of being able to carry around personal data with them. Even though this was advancement in portable computing technology, it was still not small or usable enough to be considered a true laptop; hence its popularity never really entered the commercial sphere.
Most experts agree that the first device that could be labelled as a laptop was released in 1983. The Kyocera Kyotronic 8 featured a folding screen and an internal modem; both hallmarks of the modern laptop. Its power source however was AA batteries meaning the expense of running the device was considerable. Once again however the downsides of the device were outweighed by people’s desire for mobile computing and hence its popularity was immense.
At this point in time however the majority of the computers in the world were IBM machines. This meant that any device that wished to experience widespread success would have to be compatible with such systems; up until this point laptops were not. This changed however with the announcement by the USAAF that an order would be placed for 200,000 laptops before the end of 1987; competition and subsequently development continued with gusto. Zenith Data Systems won the bid and as a result were the largest laptop manufacturer for the next half a decade.
Apple’s entry into the market was truly a watershed in the development of the laptop. While the initial foray had limited applications and suffered from being too large to be competitive, 1991 saw the release of the PowerBook 1; a device that revolutionised and set the standards in laptop design. The PowerBook 1 had the clamshell design and an integrated keyboard that would become the norm in the world of mobile computing. With the inclusion of a touchpad mouse and integral network adapters it left the rest of the industry in its wake.
It was Microsoft however that changed the way laptops were used thanks to the release of Windows 95. This operating system standardised the laptop and with the development of CD Rom, Intel Pentium Processors and the floppy disk, laptop manufacturers now had a standard set of features that would have to be included should the model be commercially successful. Understandably companies such as Toshiba, Sony and Dell now incorporated all these features into their laptops.
Today the modern laptop has come along way from the design of its predecessors. Seemingly these miracle devices will become ever smaller and lighter, increasing portability as a matter of course. One thing is certain, laptops will continue to develop rapidly, whether this means incorporating touch screen technology or solar power is anyone’s guess.