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Graphics Input Devices Apple Hardware

1979 Apple Graphics Tablet vs. the iPad 81

CWmike writes "When Apple launched the iPad earlier this year, it was the culmination of fans' long wait for the company to enter the tablet market. There's no doubt the iPad is a revolutionary device. But in 1979, an earlier generation of Apple users used a different kind of Apple tablet, back when the word meant something else entirely, writes Ken Gagne. The Apple Graphics Tablet was designed by Summagraphics and sold by Apple Computer for the Apple II personal microcomputer. (Summagraphics also marketed the device for other platforms as the BitPad.) To be clear, this tablet was not a stand-alone computing device like the iPad. Instead, it was an input device for creating images on the Apple II's screen, and it predated the Apple II's mouse by six years. Apple II fan Tony Diaz had an Apple Graphics Tablet on hand at last month's KansasFest, an annual convention for diehard Apple II users. He and Gagne, the event's marketing director, compared and contrasted Apple's original tablet with the iPad, snapping photos as they went." The contrived comparison is as silly as it sounds — but it's a fine excuse to look at some ahead-of-its-time gear, even in the form of an annoying slide show.
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1979 Apple Graphics Tablet vs. the iPad

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  • Poor comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @02:46AM (#33249450) Journal
    Why compare the AGT to the iPad? Pretty much the only things they have in common is a touch sensitive surface. It's closer in function to a Wacom.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Light pens from those days are probably closer to a modern touch sensitive screen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geogob ( 569250 )

      If you read TFA, you would notice that they do not really compare the functionality, but rather design, packaging, interfacing, etc. I believe it is more a comparison of Apple 1979 vs Apple 2010 than AGT vs iPad.

      And interesting device comparison to do both for the aspects compared here and for functionality aspects would be the Apple Newton Message Pad 2000 series against the iPad. It has been compared to the iPhone quite a few times, and probably already to the iPad to. (I think that an iPad comparison is

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 14, 2010 @04:58AM (#33249776)

        If you read TFA, you would notice that they do not really compare the functionality, but rather design, packaging, interfacing, etc.

        That is probably a good choice. I have the feeling that Apple's customers value those things higher than functionality.

        • Name one Apple product that failed at its core functionality recent memory. Just one.

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The problem with this kind of rhetoric is that Apple redefines "core functionality" until it's pretty meaningless. They redefine "core functionality" so that it excludes things that even a 1979 Apple was capable of doing. That's why "geeks" give the new Apple so much grief. They have UNNECESSARILY castrated technology in the name of consumer accessability.

            They're like the anti-Apple when compared to 1979.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by sznupi ( 719324 )

              Also, when something fizzles, lately it becomes suddenly "just a hobby from the start" (vide Apple TV)

              • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

                Also, when something fizzles, lately it becomes suddenly "just a hobby from the start" (vide Apple TV)

                Funny enough, it's fizzled so badly enough that most other companies would've killed it long ago as well. Fact is, Apple's still keeping it around for whatever reason, investing money into it. I'm sure the other products the fizzled don't get extended lifetimes as much as AppleTV does. Even considering it's supposed to be replaced, Apple's still pouring money into it.

                I'm guessing there's a reason for that i

                • Yeah, I never really understood the idea behind the Apple TV. It's like some hybrid media server/DVR/iTunes/whatever. It has no focus, really, especially with only a 160GB drive.

                  I'm guessing they're working on some new, very improved version that has a strong focus in at least one of the areas. If not, just cut the thing.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            From what I've heard, the latest iPhone fails at being phone, depending on how you hold it.

        • by bitten ( 200145 )

          Just as a side note.
          In my opinion design and interfacing are part of the functionality - which is an aspect that
          many feature ridden products neglect - and which is an area where apple is a leader.

      • There's been an ad comparison which is almost shot for shot, word for word identical. Not that it stopped me from getting one.

      • If you read TFA...

        It would be even more useful if the /. article posters actually RTFA before posting.

    • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @06:43AM (#33249982)

      You're right. That's like comparing a Canon 7D to a Barbie Video Girl. [vimeo.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Joce640k ( 829181 )

      Why not compare it to, say, the Apple Newton. That would make a lot more sense.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      Yes, the newton is a better comparison on features.

    • A better comparison to the iPad is the Modbook [axiotron.com]. Axiotron, who makes them, took real MacBooks and replaced the lid/monitor with a Wacom tablet. As such they run OS X 10.6 or Snow Leopard not iOS or whatever.


  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @02:56AM (#33249470)

    The iPad(TM) is really boring.

    Boring like minimalist music. Boring like Gregorian chant. Beautiful, and fascinating for its exploration of something more distinct in a single tone - but boring like an appliance.

    But is it art? ;^)

    Ryan Fenton

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Needs flash and a webcam stuck on a long usb cord. Then it would be boring and functional -a true appliance for the 21st century.
  • Ahead of its time? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alien1024 ( 1742918 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @03:05AM (#33249490)
    Hardly. Digitizing tables date back to the 1950s.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All lies!
      You're forgetting "There's no doubt the iPad is a revolutionary device"!
      Clearly Apple invented tablets back then, and now again with the iPad.
      There never has been a similar device to anything before Apple produced it!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tyrione ( 134248 )

      Hardly. Digitizing tables date back to the 1950s.

      How many consumer digitizing tablets were available back in the 1950s?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mikkeles ( 698461 )

        Ouuu! I smell a potential patent: it's a consumer digitizing tablet! Like, totally different, boyo!

        • Nice sarcasm, but yes a consumer device is different from a professional device. Nobody had VTRs or VCRs in their home in the 1950s and 60s, even though they did exist at the time. The first VCR that people could actually afford was Betamax in 1975. And later Sony released the Betacam VCR which was aimed solely at pro level.

          Likewise the earliest digitizing tablet that people could afford to bring home would probably be the Apple Tablet, just as Apple II was the first consumer-level computer. (Although

    • You must remember that before Jobs helped found Apple, he snuck out of his crib to invent touch interfaces (long before anyone else had a chance). I hear he even invented the transistor.
    • Digitizing tables date back to the 1950s

      Analog tablets go back to pre-Moses.

      Apple has been around for 3+ decades, a fascinating change in computing.

      As a PC user I look occasionally at why to use a Mac but the one button mouse and high prices keep turning me to the competition. However, bundle an iPad, with a stylus that uses a button for right clicking, in a Mac deal so a user has the alternative of handwriting and touch input via Bluetooth or LAN as well as a portable subcomputer away from the desk, and M

      • As a PC user I look occasionally at why to use a Mac but the one button mouse and high prices keep turning me to the competition

        Apple's Magic Mouse [apple.com] is a 2 button mouse. Or third party mice can be used. Next to the MacBook Pro I'm typing this on I have a Logitech Trackman Trackball with 2 buttons and a wheel. I also keep a second one in the bag. However I can also simulate 2 buttons, just as I did when I used Windows. Just as holding down the alt/opt or CTRL key when clicking the mouse with Windows and

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        As a PC user I look occasionally at why to use a Mac but the one button mouse and high prices keep turning me to the competition. However, bundle an iPad, with a stylus that uses a button for right clicking, in a Mac deal so a user has the alternative of handwriting and touch input via Bluetooth or LAN as well as a portable subcomputer away from the desk, and Mac sales may go nuts. Heck, somebody make an iPad or lightweight tablet do this for a PC.

        That one-button mouse pretty much ensures that apps are desi

  • by Gordo_1 ( 256312 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @03:11AM (#33249512)

    Apple had a crude input device made for them in 1979 that was called a "tablet" because its shape resembled... um, a tablet. Coincidentally, Apple recently introduced a mobile computing device that is also tablet-shaped.

    Slow news day, eh?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, what it means is that the Acolyte Tony Diaz has re-discovered a precious holy relic from the hallowed First Golden Era of the God-Emperor Steve Jobs, (May the Holy Kidney Protect Him). Such a relic proves the Divine authenticity of the Miracle of iPad and serves as a reminder of the omniscience of the God-Emperor Steve Jobs, (May the Holy Kidney Protect Him).

  • Relation? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bart416 ( 900487 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @03:16AM (#33249514)
    And these two are related how?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by txoof ( 553270 )

      Ugg, and there's 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back. I thought that I was going to learn something, or perhaps gain some insight into the design process and it's consistency over decades of products. Alas, Computer World shows us once again that all they can write is poorly reported fluff [slashdot.org]. The article just a bunch of straws grasped at in desperation of imitating journalism.

    • They're both mentioned in the article. And now Halloween is also related, since it's mentioned in the discussion of the summary of the article. And the number 9!
    • The Apple brand. Or maybe not. Wasn't it Apple Computers back then?
  • "back when the word meant something else entirely"

    Uhh-- a graphics tablet was so named because it vaguely resembled a stone tablet. A tablet PC was so named because it uses an input pen like a graphics tablet and you can write on the screen.

    The word still means the same thing, at least since the advent of graphics tablets. Just because you're not necessarily drawing pictures with the pen doesn't mean its not a graphics tablet built into a pc.

  • Mindshare (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Another day another apple slashvert. How very fucking tedious.

    • Another day another apple slashvert. How very fucking tedious.

      It doesn't have to be. We can have fun with this.

      I don't know, even days we just pick on fanbois - although, that's been getting a bit boring too. But there's still room for creativity like; "Ha ha fanbois! You're now mainstream and you aren't so different or rebellious anymore!"

      Or "Hey fanbois! Like Jobs says, 'You have a computing appliance'. What's it like to have an expensive toaster?! When are you going to get your Apple branded microwave the .....iWave?"

      On the odd days, we can pick on the F/oSS guys.

  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by FrostedWheat ( 172733 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @04:12AM (#33249672)

    There's no doubt the iPad is a revolutionary device

    Hi Steve!

    • Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Cause it's not like touch screen tablets ever existed before the iPad. Uh-huh. Revolutionary my ass.
  • by rcb1974 ( 654474 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @04:48AM (#33249746) Homepage

    I read the article. There isn't much overlap between the two devices in terms of functionality.

  • by apricotmuffins ( 950235 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @05:32AM (#33249818)
    And yet, apple didnt expand on the graphics tablets and now another company (wacom) holds the industry standard and specialises in input devices for artists and graphic designers. I don't deny apple's innovation here, I just am curious as to how that came about.
  • by hessian ( 467078 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @06:33AM (#33249956) Homepage Journal

    Back in 1979, Apple was a hacker company, breaking new ground.

    Now they're a boutique. Their products aren't technological innovations, but re-use of existing technology in more comfy or trendy ways.

    What computer science breakthroughs occurred with the mp3 player, or tablet?

    With comfy/trendy products, you buy status symbols for conspicuous consumption. "Who are you better than?" is the eternal question of the fearful, and buying an iPad makes you for at least six weeks seem a lot cooler than your neighbor without one.

    • it's amazing how humans take the actions of a few and generalise them then label the majority, we do it with everything from religion to computers! I'm not immune to this, but I find it's a little sad, it spreads hate and ignorance, by not trying to better understand the other side and stereotyping them.
    • you buy status symbols for conspicuous consumption.

      I don't know about other Apple hardware, and don't care, but Macs are more than just that. Mac hardware is better than typical PC hardware. And up until Windows 7 OSX was clearly more stable and usable than MS OSes.


  • The comparison was kind of silly, but one thing I did find interesting: The use of a "toolbar" on top of the 1979 graphics tablet (pg 5 in the article) - much like most paint programs and many other apps of the last 20+ years that have had a graphical interface. Somebody said graphical tablets were around long before 1979, did any use such a convention?
  • Depressingly I remember the AGT from when it was new. Used one at a computer fair when I was 12 in amazed mode.

  • We were taught how to use them in my jr high computer class. (20 years ago) The program I used had a few pre-built shapes (circles, rectangles, lines, etc) that you create via the tablet. Of course, I didn't realize it then, but apparently that class has prepared me to use the iPad.
  • The fashion sense of the presenter in those photos, with the ring and huge gold bracelet. Surprised the medallion didn't get in the way.
  • Tablets are new-fangled compared to the pantograph [wikipedia.org], a scissor/accordian linkage mechanism that digitized pen position by means of two potentiometers. I am unable to find a trace of the third-party commercial one for the Atari 8-bit on the Internet, but this research [adeptnordic.com] one will give you some idea -- except the one for the Atari was 2 DOF, was an input device only (no robotics or force feedback) and actually more closely resembled the classic Renaissance pantograph from the Wikipedia link. Recall that the Ata

  • OK, a digitizer and the iPad both have a rectangular surface and they have cables. On that note let us compare the roof of a 67 Chevy to a shark fin.
  • I actually had an AGT, back when I was a little kid and an Apple was actually an appropriate computer for me. Then I turned 7, and learned to use a PC.

    Seriously, though... I don't recall ever really using the AGT for much, except maybe once or twice just to see what it did (my parents probably actually got it for my older brother, but I doubt he did either.) It was really just a high-tech toy without much practical application, so maybe the comparison isn't so bad after all.

    I think it was fun to see t

    • by K8Fan ( 37875 )
      Rock star/programmer Todd Rundgren wrote a paint program for this thing called the Utopia Graphics System. It was advertised in the first Apple catalog, but I don't know if it was ever available as a commercial product. Anyone remember it?
  • FTS- "KansasFest, an annual convention for diehard Apple II users." I am now a college graduate. Last time a saw an Apple II being USED was in kindergarten. Ever since then, computers have just gotten more useful. I'm being slightly facetious and maybe a little ignorant, but what do they do at this conference? Play number munchers?
    • The full session schedule [kansasfest.org] is available online.

      Some of the presentation's titles: "Magic with Macrosoft: Machine Language Speed for Applesoft Programmers"; "Apple's Growing Divide Between Users and Programmers"; "How to Use Your Apple II as a Dumb Terminal for Mac OS X"; "73H 0r3g0n 7r41L Game Mod"; "Apple III: A Closer Look".

      The HackFest programming competition is especially cool.

  • Memories (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bloobamator ( 939353 )

    Decades ago I wrote a map digitizing app for the Mac II and that tablet, which in the mid-eighties I think had been rebranded as the MacTablet. I used LightSpeed Pascal (I was still in college.) It was cool. I even added a logarithmic feature for contour maps. The app would draw a picture of what you were tracing, inside a small window, while it streamed the digitized coordinates to another small window. Because I built it for engineers to use, it also had a recalibration feature during which the app

  • Perq used it also (Score:3, Informative)

    by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:09AM (#33250756) Homepage Journal

    The Summagraphics Bitpad was used as the graphical input device for the Perq. Rather than run a silly paint program, it allowed us to use the Perq as a CAD workstation to design the Perq II. Prior to that time most schematics were drawn on paper and netlists generated by hand. Graphical design saved countless hours and mistakes.

    The Bitpad was fantastic compared to some of the other input devices [wikipedia.org] of the day.

  • Ugh, too many links/pages to read. How about we do one page with its print page [computerworld.com]?

  • The comparison got me wondering ... would an App that lets you use the iPad as a tablet device to a Mac (or any other OS) be worth developing? Is it already out there?
  • There are some similarities between the iPad and Apple Graphics Tablet. You can use the iPas AS a graphics tablet. http://www.appcraver.com/drawing-apps-ipad-art/ [appcraver.com]

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun