A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages

Mon, Apr 12, 2010


Think I’m talking about the iPad? Nope. I’m referring to a visionary idea from over 40 years ago.  The title of this article is actually the tag line for the Dynabook, a computer concept proposed by Alan Kay in 1968 long before it was technically possible to mass-produce.  To dramatize his dream of  “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages,” he sketched two happy children playing with Dynabooks in a field.

Then, guess what Alan Kay did next? Here’s a hint. He fathered a genetic line that leads to the iPad, which  embodies the Dynabook concept more thoroughly than any device to date.

After that, Kay went on to work at Xerox PARC and develop the Alto personal computer, which he originally called “the Interim Dynabook.”  The Alto pioneered the graphical user interface including the first use of a desktop metapho with icons for a trashcan and mailbox, multiple windows and drawing programs. The Alto GUI was adapted by Apple and later by Microsoft — spawning the look and feel of the 1984 Macintosh and in the early 1990’s, Windows 3.1.

Kay wanted the Dynabook concept to embody the learning theories of Jerome Bruner and some of what Seymour Papert— who had studied with developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and who invented the Logo programming language — was proposing. The hardware on which the programming environment ran was relatively irrelevant. Alan Kay still thinks the Dynabook hasn’t been invented yet, because key software and educational curriculum are missing.

For these facts, credit goes to the article in  Wikipedia

So, is the iPad “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages”?  From the pictures below, you’d think so. Even if the software and curriculum Kay envisioned are yet to come, you can feel the same magic — the union of computer-loving human and human-oriented machine — that emanates from Kay’s original sketch of children using his Dynabook above.

Pee-Wee Gets an iPad

A young Girl Gets an iPad on Launch Day

Alan Kay’s Original Dynabook Plan

5 Responses to “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages”

  1. Richard Carey Says:

    Nice trip down memory lane however you left out the 1979-vintage Apple tablet — http://www.edibleapple.com/the-first-apple-tablet-from-1979/ — that actually shipped and sold for $650. It wasn’t much more than a graphics tablet but the intention of tablet computing was clearly there.

  2. Jeremy Ross Says:

    Thanks, Richard.
    I recall the 1979 tablet as a pioneering device that expressed the concept but was heavy, slow and met with limited success.

    A more-successful version that runs the Apple OS is today’s Modbook, Axiotron’s “hot rod” product made with the guts of a MacBook Pro combined with a stylus-based touch screen. For some, that is a better solution than an iPad and goes head-to-head with the abilities to Windows-based tablets and netbooks.


  3. Ward Bleser Says:

    Thanks for the Information, thanks for your useful Post. I will come back later ? Great information about the ipad : ipad

  4. Danielle Says:

    How cool is it that someone a.) envisioned that in 1968 and b.) that it hasn’t fully come to fruition yet. Great post!

  5. Rina Saile Says:

    There is obviously a lot to identify about this. I think you made various good points in features also.

Leave a Reply