The Ghost in the Machine

P. Atkinson,
The Ghost in the Machine
Paperweight 2: 2011: 7

In April 1991, almost 20 years before the launch of Apple’s iPad, the cover of the popular magazine Personal Computer World proudly displayed a photograph of a completely new category of computing product – a tablet computer called the ‘GO PC’. It was a breakthrough in the emerging field of ‘PenPoint Computing’ and, as the cover stated, had ‘The first natural user interface’. The photograph showed the product in use, being held by one hand in the manner of a clipboard, and being written on with the other hand using a stylus. This was no April Fool’s joke – typing commands into a computer, that anachronistic hangover from the typewriter, was soon to be a thing of the past. The accompanying article excitedly explored the ins and out of the unique pen-based user interface, concluding that ‘The men behind GO …. believe they’ve got something special. We should all take note’. This was to be the future of computing.

There is only one problem with this story. GO was a ghost, a piece of vapourware; it was a fleeting, tantalising glimpse of a machine that never materialised. The GO PC never existed. Well, never as anything other than a prototype. A couple of well-connected journalists got to try one out, but the general public certainly never saw one. Does this matter? Is it of any importance to design history that a particular product never got past the prototype stage? To be of any relevance, does a product actually have to have been made in quantity to ‘count’ in some way?

Paperweight 2 cover

The full article can be found in Paperweight Issue 2, available from here

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