The computers we use today are a show of the amount of technological advancements that have been made in the technological industry to date. Present day technology grows at a pace that might just leave you behind, if you don’t follow up. The portable and lightweight machines we use today cannot be compared to the humongous machines that first characterized the computer industry.
The origin of computers dates back to the ancient times when mathematics and calculators were being developed. The idea of computers came about from the need to calculate and analyze large amounts of data in a short amount of time. This idea was first conceptualized in the form of supercomputers that weighed more than a ton and filled entire rooms. After successfully creating the supercomputers, during the year 1949, computer engineers took it upon themselves to create computers that weighed less than 1.5 tons. The idea of portable computers however came about during the 1970’s.
The first attempt at manufacturing portable computers was executed by researchers at Xerox Company. Researchers came up with a model which they dubbed ‘Dynabook’. It was created during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Dynabook was designed such that its screen did not fold over, as is the case with modern laptops; rather it was more of a tablet; and was to run on an everlasting battery life. The researchers were not successful in operationalizing their idea though; as the level of technology during the period was not adequately advanced.
The advancements and attempts to create smaller and lighter computers continued over the years. The final outcomes were still too large and heavy to be carried around comfortably. Additionally, they were also too expensive such that only national and high ranking technological organizations; such as NASA; could afford them.
The most remarkable and operational portable computer ever made was the IBM 5100, in the year 1975. It was the first microcomputer to be made; it was small enough to be carried from one place to another, but weighed around 55 pounds and this was too heavy to be practically carried around comfortably. Compared to later models that came in the successive years, the IBM 5100 was the pioneer of the creation of today’s laptops as it was not dependent on a heavy processor and thus was more self-reliant.
The advent of operational and commercially viable laptops was realized with the creation of the Osborne 1 system in the year 1981. The Osborne 1 was the size of a portable sewing machine, with a small monitor, came with a handle and was foldable; however, it was not able to run on battery power. The Osborne altered the 80’s world of business by allowing high profile business people to walk around with their data and business information – even as they travel. The Osborne 1 was created by Adam Osborne and was very successful and popular, but was soon overtaken by subsequent models.
The first modern looking and recognizable laptop came out in 1982. It was a clamshell design with a flat visual display screen that folded onto the keyboard. It was dubbed the GRID Compass and could run on battery power. Similar to the Osborne 1 it was high priced and was incompatible with IBM, the then leading computer platform. This really limited its popularity in the market. As such, it was only used by United States military and NASA.
In 1983, the computer market was widened and demand for portable computers rose sharply among business people who wished to travel with their data and work on the move. Many manufacturers ventured into the market but many of them were not very successful as their systems were not IBM compatible.
As aforementioned, IBM was the leading platform for most desktop computers in the 80’s; as such it was considered essential that a laptop had to be IBM compatible in order to enable the transfer of data and information from one computer to another. This requirement created a gap in the market that was soon filled by IBM and Toshiba when they launched their IBM compatible laptops. These laptops were light enough to be comfortably carried around in a backpack, were able to run efficiently on batteries and came with an added ‘pause’ feature that allowed a user to pause their sessions and resume them later without having to restart the computer. These two laptops were popular and considered useful. However, they were limited in their practicality, resulting in them not attaining full scale commercial triumph.
By the year 1987, numerous laptop manufacturers had popped up globally and were gaining their footing in the global market. Each manufacturer strived to come up with a laptop that would beat the others in the market, fuelling the technological advancements even further. During this year researchers attempted to integrate touch screens and handwriting recognition functions through the use of Linus Write-Top and a stylus device.
A contract offered by the United States Air force for the supply of 200,000 computers led to a change in the manner which manufacturers sourced their equipment. The Zenith Data Systems (ZNS) company which won the contract, entered into a partnership with Japanese equipment suppliers in order to fully maximize on its leadership role, a move which was soon copied by other leading laptop manufacturers in the market. This led to Japan’s economic success and its currency becoming stronger in the market – and weakening the US dollar at the same time. On realizing this, the laptop companies then shifted their manufacturing needs to Taiwan, a move which has seen companies such as Dell, Micron and Gateway rise in the market.
By early 90’s companies were competing left, right and center to supply the ever growing demand for faster, lighter but cheaper and efficient portable computers. It is amid this competition that the popular laptops we know and use today came about.