Close But No Cigar

Of course for every breakthrough development and eureka moment in the history of the laptop, plenty of technological cul-de-sacs were driven down and turkeys produced.

You’ll probably remember the most recent false dawn – Microsoft’s push for the tablet PC. Alan Kay (remember him – the father of the modern laptop) paid it the ultimate ‘compliment’ when he said that it was the first attempt at a tablet PC worth criticising.

Of course Microsoft’s drive wasn’t the first attempt at producing a tablet-style PC. It had been tried before and met with similar failure. It didn’t take off when IBM tried it in 1993 with its ThinkPad 750P/360P either.

Even Apple tried it with its now-defunct Newton, a tablet-style PDA launched in the same year as the IBM 750P. It was eventually canned in 1998 after smaller and cheaper PDAs based on the Microsoft Windows CE operating system and Palm Pilot handhelds arrived and took its market away.

In the world of Windows CE, there were also attempts to take market share from the full blown laptop. The 'palmtop' computer – small handheld devices with tiny keyboards based on Microsoft's cut down operating system were all the rage in the late Nineties.

Microsoft even brought out a version of CE (2.11 Pro) specifically aimed at larger, more laptop-like devices. But only a few devices – HP's Jornada 820 comes to mind – were ever released for it.

A British company called Psion briefly threatened to make inroads with its Series 5 organiser, which to this day boasts the best-engineered miniature keyboard I have seen. But it moved on eventually when interest in palmtop computers eventually waned at the beginning of the decade.

But perhaps the one development that has always remained a sideline in laptop development has been 3D graphics. As desktops have added more and more powerful cards to their armoury, laptops have lagged behind. Today's mobile graphics solutions – such as ATI's Mobility Radeon and nVidia's GeForce Go – are a vast improvement over earlier attempts, but they still lag behind their desktop counterparts.

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