Famous science fiction author Arthur C Clarke describes the world’s first iPad (or newspad, as he called it) way back in 1968:

I recently revisited ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, written by Arthur C Clarke and first published in 1968. Clarke lived to see 2001 and to mark the occasion, he reflected upon how his speculative fiction stacked up with the passing of time. For example, Clarke got the plot line where Dave Bowman’s spaceship uses Jupiter’s orbit as a slingshot right – Cassini did this in 2000. Clarke got a lot of things right but one thing he did not know that he also got right was the iPad. Clarke described the world’s first iPad (or news pad as he calls it in Chapter 9):

“When (Floyd) had tired of official reports, memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one, he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers… Switching to the display’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference. When he punched that, a postage-sized rectangle would expand till it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he finished he could flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination. Floyd sometimes wondered if the newspad and the fantastic technology behind it was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications.”

Arthur C Clarke died in 2008. The first iPad was released in April 2010. Here are a couple more paragraphs which follow this that may also be of interest:

“Here (Floyd) was far out in space, speeding away from Earth in thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds, he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. The very word “newspaper”, of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics. The text was updated automatically on every hour. If one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites. It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient but sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg.

“There was another thought that the scanning of those tiny electronic news headlines often invoked – the more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry or depressing its contents seemed to be. Accidents, crimes, natural and manmade disasters, threats of conflicts, gloomy editorials – these still seemed to be the main concerns of the millions of words being sprayed into the ether. Yet Floyd also wondered if this was altogether a bad thing. The newspapers of utopia, he had long ago decided, would be terribly dull.”

Footnote: Some may remember Apple’s clunky 1990s version of the iPad, the Newton notepad (below), circa 1992.



    1. Or Asimov’s ‘Calculator Pad’ from ‘Foundation’ published in 1951 or for that matter Elisha Gray’s patent for a ‘Telautograph’ in 1888. I think Arthur C Clarke’s and other SF writers more interesting contributions are their predictions of the social effects of such devices.

    1. I am actually curious to hear what your definition is of an invention. Most patents are just written documents of things that do not even exist. It is just an idea or a concept that someone came up with. If he was the first to write about a tablet computer then he invented the concept weather or not he applied it.

      1. I’m not sure if Arthur C Clarke was the first to write about the tablet. My post was inspired by Clarke’s sci-fi vision. He came close in 1968 to describing the modern experience of using an iPad to check news sites and had some interesting comments on media. I used the word “invent” in the headline of my blog post in a non-technical/media way. Maria Popova from @brainpicker used the term “predicted” in her article when she linked to my post. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/15/arthur-c-clarke-predicts-the-ipad-in-1968/

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  2. How about Asimov’s stab at something similar from ‘Foundation’ published in 1951.
    “Seldon removed his calculator pad from the pouch at his belt. Men said he kept one beneath his pillow for use in moments of wakefulness. Its gray, glossy finish was slightly worn by use. Seldon’s nimble fingers, spotted now with age, played along the hard plastic that rimmed it. Red symbols glowed out from the gray…”

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