In my Scientific American column this month, I wrote about the culture of feature-stealing among the big tech companies. And I noted that if you’re a tech reviewer, you can’t write about some “new feature” without riling up the fanboys and fangirls, who are quick to point out that their favorite brand had it first.
After much thought, I’ve come to realize that there’s only one way to please everyone: To give a full genealogy of any feature introduced in any product. It would go something like this.
Apple hopes that the new, enormous iPad Pro will be attractive to people who’d otherwise carry a laptop. In that spirit, Apple offers a new $100 accessory called the Apple Pencil. It’s a stylus that lets you write or draw on the screen. (The Apple Pencil is not a new idea; its obvious inspiration is the stylus that comes with Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet. [Of course, Microsoft’s electronic pen is only the grandchild of the stylus that accompanied the PalmPilot organizers in the late 1990s. (And those were clearly based off of the 1984 KoalaPad for the Apple II, the first home-computer graphics tablet [which was itself an improvement on Apple’s own Apple Graphics Tablet, a rebranded version of the Summagraphics BitPad (an evolution of the 1964 Rand Grafacon tablet [whose roots can be traced to Elisha Gray’s Telautograph, the first electronic handwriting device, which he patented in 1888 (having clearly been inspired by the pencil [a descendant of the thin metal stylus, as it was known, which the ancient Romans used to scratch into papyrus or wax tablets])])])]).
There…everybody happy now?