Tablets may not be new, but they certainly never caught the attention of consumers the way Apple's iPad has. Was the technology just not there, or was the world just not ready?
It could be a lot less of the latter than you think. An interesting infographic over on PCWorld shows a head-to-head comparison between the iPad and a remarkably similar tablet from 1998. Sharp's Mobilon Pro ran Microsoft's mobile OS, Windows CE, and was thin and light for its day and around the size of Apple's tablet. It even has the iPad beat in two key areas: battery life and multitasking (which will be coming to the iPad later this year). There are some creepy coincidences, as well, such the Sharp coming with 16MB of flash storage whereas the iPad packs 16GB.
So why didn't the Mobilon Pro sell 450,000 units right out of the gate? My guess is it's because the way we're able to consume portable media has changed. You could load a couple of movies onto the iPad to watch during a flight, or access high-speed wireless Internet content right from your bed — the Mobilon relied and dial-up and was too small storage-wise for a movie.
In that sense it seems that Sharp wasn't handicapped by its idea, just the technology of the day. The iPad is a clear example that tablets are ready to have their shot at last, and that, oftentimes, it really just comes down to one thing: timing.