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									History of Laptops
Alan Kay developed one of the earliest concepts of a laptop computer/tablet PC at Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) known as Dynabook in 1971. According to an interview
with Alan Kay by The Book & The Computer/Online Symposium, “he envisioned „a portable
interactive personal computer, as accessible as a book.‟ The Dynabook would be linked to a
network and offer users a synthesis of text, visuals, animation and audio." He also envisioned a
computer that would function as a medium through which people could communicate important
things and as a tool that could be used in creating an enriching environment for learning. Xerox
PARC and the technology developed there are widely considered to be influential on computer
design in general. For example, it is believed that the first laptops were inspired by the Xerox
NoteTaker, which were built as 10 prototypes, to prove that Alan Kay's Dynabook concept could
be a reality, in 1976 at Xerox PARC.

Adam Osborne designed the Osborne 1, a computer some consider to be the first true portable
computer, in 1980 for his company Osborne Computer Corporation. Released in 1981, the
computer was the size of a small suitcase/sewing machine and was designed to fit under an
airline seat for business professionals and was the first commercially available portable
computer. Mr. Osborne had transportation in mind when he designed the computer as it was
designed to be rugged and able to survive being moved around a lot. It could be folded up to fit
under an airplane seat and had a small screen, which was less susceptible to damage than a larger
screen. Its technology was designed around CP/M running on a Z80 microprocessor and it
contained two 5.25 inch floppy drives, small 52 character display, and several popular
applications. Unfortunately without the optional battery pack, the computer had to be plugged in.

The first PC clone laptop arrived in 1983 and was designed by Compaq. The first product from
Compaq, it was known as the Compaq Portable, and was made possible through reverse
engineering where one team had access to the IBM BIOS source code, took notes on it and
another team used these notes to create a new BIOS system that functioned exactly like IBM's.

The first known laptop with a clamshell design was the GRiD Compass 1101 which was
designed in 1979 by Bill Moggride but released in 1982. The clamshell design was revolutionary
at the time as the innovative design influenced future laptop computer design. The GRiD
Compass could be run from batteries, had 320x200 pixel plasma display, and 384 kb bubble
memory. In spite of its innovative design and features, it was not commonplace as it cost
$10,000 at the time and was limited to specialized applications. This non-IBM compatible
computer was heavily used by U.S. military and used in space shuttles in the 1980s.

The Gavilan SC, designed by Gavilan Computer Corporation founder Manuel Fernandez, was
the smallest and lightest batter powered MS-DOS laptop introduced in May 1983. The mobile
computer included a 3.0" floppy drive, 400 x 64 pixel LCD screen, an internal modem and a
touch pad mouse installed on a panel above the keyboard, an innovation at the time. The Gavilan
SC was the first portable computer to be marketed as a laptop and utilized the clamshell design
innovated by GRiD corporation.

The Kyocera Kyotronic 85 also known as, the Olivetti M-10, NEC PC-8201, and Radio Shack
TRS-80 Model 100 line or Tandy 100 via licenses to Tandy Corporation, Olivetti, and NEC, was
released in 1983 and was the biggest selling laptop at the time. The mobile computer operated on
AA batteries and was supplied with Microsoft programs. Although not a clamshell computer, the
computer contained a 8x40 character LCD screen located above a keyboard, 8kb of RAM and
internal modem. The computer was a best seller among journalists due to its portability, good
battery life and ease of replacement, reliability and $300 price.

The Toshiba T1000 and T1200, IBM compatible machines, were released in 1987 and were
small and light enough to be carried in one's backpack. The computer's operating system was
stored in ROM via floppy disks, had 4.77 MHz Intel processors, 512 kb RAM and could be run
off of lead acid batteries. These computers introduced and influenced the implementation of the
now standard "resume" feature, the computer could safely be paused between sessions without
requiring a restart each time, to DOS based machines.

Laptops had gained popularity toward the end of the 1980s among business people. The NEC
Ultralite, released in 1989, is considered by some as the first notebook computer as it contained a
2 MB RAM drive and was compact. The Compaq LTE series computers, released in 1989, were
the first notebook computers with standard hard drives and resolution screens.

The Mac Portable, released in 1989, was Apple's first portable Macintosh computer. Few PC
laptops at the time were as fast or powerful as these laptops. The computers were equipped with
a 68000 processor running at 16 MHz, 1 MB RAM expandable to 9 MB RAM, 1.44 MB floppy
disk drive, an optional internal modem, and included a Processor Direct Slot for direct access to
the system processor and faster and more powerful expansion cards. The computer was also
equipped with an active matrix screen, which updated faster and did not have the blurry effect of
earlier laptop displays. The computers were powered by internal lead acid gel/cell batteries,
similar to batteries in cars, which were able to run from 6-12 hours but added 2 pounds to the
overall weight of the machine and reduced portability as a result. Data was stored on 40 MB
SCSI hard drives and was able to spin down and sleep to conserve energy. The computer was not
successful due to its 16 pound weight and was had limited mobility as a result.

The PowerBook series was introduced in 1991 by Apple computer and was a significant
improvement to its first mobile computer. The PowerBook's introduction saw many innovative
designs that soon become the standard for future laptop design. Innovations in design included
ergonomic improvements like placing the keyboard at the back of the machine to allow room for
a palm rest and a trackball for navigation. A few years later, PowerBooks introduced the first
256 color displays, true touchpad, and first built-in Ethernet networking port.

The 1990s witnessed a significant improvement in technology as well as increase of usefulness
and popularity while prices decreases. Many developments unique to laptops were quickly
implemented in their design, which improved usability and performance when compared to
traditional desktop computers. Major improvements include:

   o   Lighter and more efficient batteries, initially nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and then
       lithium ion and more recently lithium polymer, replacing heavy lead acid batteries.
   o   The introduction of the Intel 386SX processor, designed specifically for laptops' power
       needs, which saved power while still enabling fast processing power.
   o   Active matrix display technology and color screens that were suitable substitutes for
       traditional CRT monitors and an improvement over the previously used grayscale passive
       matrix LCD displays prone to heavy shadows and blurry movement.
   o   Greater availability of thin, high capacity hard disk drives with high reliability, shock
       resistance and low power consumption that enabled users to store their work on laptops
       and carry it with them.
   o   Internal modems and standard serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports on PCs and more recently
       Ethernet networking ports, USB, and Wi-Fi enabling improved interconnectivity.
    Size & Weight
    The size and weight of laptops have significantly decreased over time. As one may have noticed
    from our visual history of laptops, the earliest laptops were large and bulky, weighing an average
    of 20 pounds. Some of them were so large and bulky, that they were not really mobile. In the
    early stages of laptop design, laptops were the size of large brief cases and were designed to be
    carried as such. Many were also designed to be stowed away under airplane seats for travel.
    These early laptops were known as "luggables" because of their suitcase like design. Some early
    laptops were designed like a calculator and were very portable. The Kyocera Kyotronic 85, a
    laptop that has a similar design to a calculator, was very popular among professionals because of
    its compact size and lightweight, two features that contributed greatly to its mobility. Some early
    laptops, like the GRiD laptop, had the clamshell design from day one and were more portable
    and light than "luggables". The clamshell design became a standard after awhile, because it
    allowed designers to create lighter and smaller laptops than the "luggable" design. In general,
    laptops have evolved from suitcase-sized computers to compact machines, small enough to fit in
    one's suitcase or backpack with minor or little inconvenience to the user.

    Although, the trend of designing lighter and smaller laptops continues, there are limitations and
    constraints such as a minimum screen size, which prevents laptops from being too small and
    creates a need to significantly reduce features or completely eliminate features with ultra light
    laptops. Aware of this tradeoff and people's different needs, computer designers have created
    laptops to cater to people's specific computer needs and size and weight desires. For example,
    laptop users who desire a desktop replacement laptop are able to easily purchase one, but at the
    expense of size and weight, as these fully equipped and powerful machines tend to be bigger and
    heavier than average laptops. Laptop users who desire an ultra thin and lightweight laptop may
    easily purchase one as well, but at the expense of computing power and built in accessories, as
    these machines tend to have the bare essentials; long battery life but low end processors and
    sometimes do not have a built-in optical drive. Average users may purchase laptops that have an
    even compromise between size, weight (6 pounds on average) and computing power.

    Wireless: An Enabler for Mobility
    Wireless as it is commonly perceived as today is a type of communication that transfers data
    between devices without the use of physical wires, cables, or cords. Instead, radio frequency and
    infrared waves are used to transmit the data. For mobile computing, the most commonly used
    standards of wireless are:

o   IEEE 802.11: This standard was developed by the working group 11 of the IEEE LAN/MAN
       Standards Committee. This term refers to a set of wireless standards (802.11b, 802.11g, etc.).
       With different enhancements the standard has been upgraded with each new later alphabet
       letter standard. The newest standards have reached maximum raw data rates up to 54 Mbit/s.
       This type of wireless is often referred to as Wi-Fi
o   Bluetooth: This standard has come to be used to connect and exchange information between
       devices through a low-cost, short range radio frequency. Each Bluetooth enabled device has
       its Bluetooth transceiver microchip. It was designed primarily for low power consumption
       with ranges of 10 centimeters, 10 meters, and 100 meters depending on the power class. It is
       used to wirelessly connect desktops, laptops, computer peripherals (mice, printers, etc),
       mobile phones, mobile phone headsets, etc. When two devices come into contact with each
       other at the appropriate range they begin to communicate with one another. Each Bluetooth
       chip will periodically send out a query to check for other Bluetooth enabled devices in the
       area. <
o   Distinction between Wi-Fi & Bluetooth: Bluetooth is the technology that connects all the devices
       in specific vicinity. Wi-Fi is the wireless broadband connection to the internet.

    Beginnings of Wireless Connectivity

    Interesting enough, wireless networks for a large majority first sprouted up in areas where
    computers users cluster. One of these places is coffee shops. Around the world coffee shops were
    some of the first places to offer free wireless connectivity, well free in the sense of paying coffee
    customers. Today, in most major cities, many coffee shops have wireless. Due to a collaboration
    between the wireless broadband startup MobileStar, Microsoft, and Starbucks most Starbucks
    have wireless connectivity.

    Academic campuses, another area where computer users cluster, have been another area that
    have been at the forefront of providing wireless networks. Many major universities, Stanford
    included, have wireless connectivity widely available to its inhabitants.

    The Growing Wireless Community

    In many major cities open wireless networks are common place and even encouraged. For
    example, in San Francisco the Bay Area Wireless User Group (BAWUG) publishes a map of
    voluntarily open Wi-Fi networks in the area. This trend is taking place all over the United States
    and in many other parts of the world. Technological tycoons such as Bill Gates have publicly
    said that wireless will be in most places people spend time. This includes corporate offices,
    campuses, hotels, convention centers, airports, shopping centers, etc. Just by looking around
    today one can see that all of this is happening and happening very rapidly.

    Wireless is even being used to drive community formation. Various public community
    development groups are using wireless to form stronger communities. Parks are a perfect place
    for this to take place. On nice days people will bring their laptops, whether for recreation or
    work, and sit outside in a park to enjoy the sun and outdoors while being on their computers.
    This has already happened in New York at Bryant Park. They‟re even going as far as designing
    voluntary “buddy lists” that allow individuals to see whether their friends are logged in at the
    park. This type of community development using wireless as tool to achieve more is being
    applied to many other public contexts.

    Again, looking at academic campuses this same type community forming mobility enabler is
    taking place. When the whether is good many students take their wireless enable laptops outside
    to enjoy the sun while they continue to study. Furthermore, students are computing in a broader
    range of areas. They bring their laptops everywhere. They bring them to class, the library, the
    bookstore, their friends‟ dorm, and even into their beds.

    Unwiring the World

    Just as wiring the world with telegraph, power, broadband, etc. caused disruption and adaptation
    within sociological contexts so too will unwiring the world. With wireless becoming available
    everywhere it is changing the where, when, what, who, and how of societal activities. This is
    already being seen in the workplace to a large extent and it will only continue to change rapidly
    in both foreseeable and unforeseeable ways. This same evolution is migrating to many other
    sociological aspects.
As of now battery life is a major constraint on the mobility of laptops. With average only battery
life being only around 3-4 hours, that doesn‟t give one that much time before the need to “plug
in” arises. A student cannot attend a full day of classes without taking the time to recharge and a
business person cannot work on their laptop for much of an overseas flight. As this aspect of
mobile computing evolves and becomes more advanced so too will the level of mobility become
more advanced.


When laptops were first developed they had little to no battery power and pretty much required
an outlet to operate. They were considered mobile simply because one could unplug them, move
them to another location, plug them back in, and then continue to use them.


Unfortunately, the actual current batteries that are in widespread use for laptops do not employ a
very advanced technology. It has actually been around for quite some time. Lithium Ion (Li-ion)
batteries are the standard system used in today‟s laptops. Currently, most Li-ion batteries can be
fully charged in as little as 45 minutes and some can be charged up to 90% capacity in as little as
10 minutes. This is a stable technology, but it does have its drawbacks. Li-ion batteries tend to
lose around 20% capacity each year. This is from the time they are manufactured therefore their
shelf-life isn‟t that long in terms of keeping a high level of performance. Every 100 cycles of full
battery charge leaves it with 75% to 85% of its original capacity. This means that after three to
five years the battery capacity is too low to be used.

Average battery lifetime after a full charge is around 3-4 hours now. There are some extreme
laptops that are battery efficient or employ an extended battery that can run up to 7-8 hours, but
with this kind of battery life you pay for it in performance.

The current trend in improving battery life is less focused on improving the battery system itself,
but instead improving the power use efficiency of the laptop. Namely, the power consumption
efficiency of the processor as this portion of the laptop consumes half the life of the battery on its
own on average. This has been a major focus of chip-producing companies in the last couple of


Companies are turning to the fuel-cell as the next generation laptop battery system. Supposedly,
fuel-cell batteries will allow laptop computers to operate for as many as 40 consecutive hours.
This is nearly 10 times the life of a common lithium-ion battery. Fuel-cell batteries will not use
recharging like batteries do today. Instead, fuel-cell batteries will be recharge by refilling them
with a fuel such as hydrogen gas or liquid methanol. If and when this technology comes into use
it will create a whole new set of battery issues as societies have been built around the concept of
powering and charging electronic devices with electricity from electrical outlets.

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