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The iPad Prototype circa 1990

Twenty years ago, I worked at a firm called Wang.

Long forgotten now, Wang could have been Microsoft or even Apple … but that's another story, and one that should make for a classic case of how to screw up a good firm when the founder leaves.

Anyways, Wang led the world in office automation and had great solutions for Word Processing, Image Processing, Networking, Database Management and more.

In the late 1980s, as leader of their UK Imaging Systems, I received a prototype unit which I still have to this day.

It was called Freestyle, an 80286 Intel Processor Tablet-PC.

The idea was to use a pen, rather than keyboard, for input.

The pen-based input allowed the user to write and draw whatever they wanted and Freestyle's clever software would convert your writing and doodles into compute files and Word documents.

Here is that unit:

Wang Freestyle 1

Strangely enough, twenty years later, it's not that weird.

It's an iPad … without the 3G or internet stuff basically.

It's got a speaker – the dots below the screen – and a microphone input – the dots in the top right hand corner.

It's got a black and white screen with a stupid stuck-on guide, but bear in mind it's a prototype unit.

It's got printer, VGA and screen projector connections et al:

Wang Freestyle 2

… as you would expect.

It's even got your headphone socket for playing that funky music:

Wang Freestyle 3

So yes, it's a tablet-PC in the earliest days of PC's pre-internet.

In fact, looking at my prototype unit and it's functionality, it's an iPad before the iPod and internet age.

Very visionary.

Oh yes, and if you want to learn more, here's my colleague from those days, Dr. Stephen Levine, explaining how the concept of Freestyle worked back then:

This was the PC rather than tablet version back then and jeez, I'm feeling older!

Nope, scrub that, I'm demonstrating vision by sharing my very first iPad … twenty years before it was released!

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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  • Chris,
    I do remember Wang. Good old days! In the 90s I was working with Digital Equipment Corporation in the Office Automation and document Management division and Wang was one of our main competitors.
    The history of Digital (and maybe of Wang?) seems to suggest that having the technology sometimes is not sufficient to survive and to fight against companies with a better marketing approach (e.g Apple).
    Sadly I have never found another great company to work for with like Digital…

  • Funny you mention Digital as I had the same idea back there back about the same time, only mine had internet access.

  • Marc

    Hi. I have one of this Wang Tablet too. Now i want to sell it. What can i take and what is the best place to sell?