The Evolution of the Modern Laptop: From 1982 to Present

The concept of laptop that we know today started it’s journey just after the advent of portable computers or more specifically ‘luggable computers’ back in 1975. IBM 5100 and later Osborne 1 are the best examples of computers that can be carried from one place to another place. The birth and the gradual evolution of the modern laptop started just after the era of bulky portable computers.

Historically, the clamshell design of the laptops first came into reality back in 1982 for the first time. Evidently, some tech enthusiasts brand the Epson HX-20 as the birth point of laptops which showed the full-68 key strength keyboard with 16KB RAM and tiny internal storage encased within a 16-bit machine. Further, it had a small dot-matrix screen of 120*32 pixels only. Then came Grid Compass in 1982.

The Evolution of the Modern Laptop

Grid Compass: The First Clamshell Avatar of Laptops

Image Credit: NASA

Grid Compass 1101 which can be named as the first forefather of modern laptops or the evolution of the laptops started with it. Mothered by, Bill Moggridge, this clamshell design laptop hit the market back in 1982 within a magnesium case and for the first time the world saw a folded shut display unit on top of the keyboard. It may sound less than paltry today, but at that time this nimble 384 KB bubble memory with a 320*200 pixel display was enough for NASA and the US military for their extensive space research and integrated weapon application programs.

Apple Walked in with Macintosh portable in 1989

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Another watershed moment for the evolution of the modern laptop. With this Macintosh Portable device, Apple made its grand presence with the first-ever battery-powered laptop manufacturer tag. Although, according to a bunch of tech pundits the COMPAQ SLT/286 was the first-ever portable laptop that was powered by a battery pack. But, along with the battery-powered device, Apple came up with another breakthrough and that’s a pointer or a pointing trackball that could locate any specific point on the screen for taking an action by the users. Further, this device packed with an active matrix LCD screen with a 40MB hard disc and a 1.44 MB floppy disc drive.

This device was replaced by a new product line namely, Apple PowerBook series in 1991. The PowerBook devices came with 25 MHZ Motorola 68030 CPU and 68882 FPU(floating-point unit), 2MB RAM and 40MB hard disc. This sleek and hinged design of these devices were the first to offer a lighter laptop with a palm rest.

IBM answered this race with their Thinkpad 700 series laptops

Reinforced carbon fiber or magnesium shell. A bright red colored embedded TrackPoint within the keyboard. 133 MHZ Pentium processor with 48MB RAM and 1.2GB hard drive. It won more than 300 international awards for its futuristic design and overall quality of performance. As a result, the Endeavor Space shuttle flew with these devices planted on board with a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope back in 1993.

Toshiba came into the market with Libretto in 1996

Toshiba announced their opulent presence with the Libretto 20 – world’s first super sleek mini notebook personal laptop with an ultra-featherweight of 840g. This 34 mm thick laptop encased a 6.1 inch TFT color LCD screen, 75 MHZ CPU, 8MB RAM, high capacity Lithium-ion secondary battery pack, and a PCMCIA card slot which enabled it to use card modems and CD-ROM drives. Further, this device offered Microsoft Windows 95 OS to its power users.

Again in 1999, Apple quaked the laptop world with its iBook series laptops – first to support wifi connectivity

Image Credit: Wikipedia

It was Steve Jobs who unboxed the first iBook back in 1999 at Macworld, NY. And, these devices came with an array of brilliant features like AGP-based graphics card, Unified motherboard architecture and a handle for easy carrying. Although, the rest tech specs were somewhat similar to the iMac series devices but to make these cheaper Apple cut down a number of previously used features like PC slots, Audio in and video out ports.

But, the cardinal factor with this series was the WiFi connectivity and technology, these devices were the first ones to come up with such an ability. Formerly coined as the ‘AirPort’ by Apple, these Wifi cards were the best feature of these laptops. It enabled these devices to get connected with 10 more iBooks in order to make a home network using a single base station.

Dell: A dream of having everything within a laptop started at 2000

The slogan was ”Dell. Purely you.”. Back in early 2000, Dell started taking over the global laptop market. At that time, as a fortune 500 company, Dell was one of the most esteemed companies to work for. Both for students and the businessman, having a Dell laptop was like a dream. The global laptop users truly branded Dell laptops with a tag name ‘Dell. Everything’. In 2000, Dell launched its famous Inspiron series laptops which had 256 to 512MB RAM, Intel Pentium-III processor and storage memory of 30 to 60 GB. Admittedly, with the flow of time, these laptops got upgraded for catering to different user sections. But, still today, most of the upcoming laptop manufacturers follow the early trends of Dell manufacturing which successfully tried to integrate the necessary hardware features for dealing with versatile user demands.

MacBook Air: World’s thinnest laptop series

The evolution of the modern laptops continued and Apple started another era of laptops with Macbook Air. Statistically, Macbook Air is the most successful product that Apple mothered during their laptop manufacturing journey to date. This particular laptop was a designed brilliance. The thinnest. The lightest. And, the smartest. At that time the general laptop’s display got bound within 11 inches to 17 inches cordon. Further, the glossy colors of the laptop were fading and more subtle colors like black and silver were coming in. The MacBook Air lacked a physical hard drive and replaced that with solid-state drives which were way faster than the previous one. It lacked a DVD player and most importantly, an ethernet port. WIFI connectivity was the only networking feature of these laptops. But, as a performer, Mac Air was unparalleled with its superior processor, beefy RAM, and Intel UHD graphics cards

Microsoft Surface: The right balance between a laptop and a tablet

As pushed by Apple, the rest of the laptop manufacturers got into the rat race of mothering thinner laptop devices and as we see nowadays, most of the modern laptops are now getting smaller and lighter with each passing day. We already started carrying pocket-sized laptops which are becoming mainstream in the ultra-portable laptop niche. But, the world needed more for the finger happy touch users. Yes, the right combination of a laptop and a tablet. In 2012, Microsoft launched its latest product series keeping that into their mind and ‘Microsoft Surface’ surfaced. A perfect hybrid for smart users.

The future of evolution

Lastly, it’s hard to define ‘what is a laptop’ nowadays as the future of computing is somewhat appearing like more hybrid in its nature. Having said that, leading laptop manufacturers like Microsoft are mainly putting their efforts into shaping more hybrid ‘laptop-tablet’ products but on the same issue, Apple is thinking otherwise as they are known to breed new trends rather than following the existing once. So, it will be interesting to see in which direction the evolution of the laptop bends itself.

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