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The Dynabook's original illustration in Alan C. Kay's 1972 paper
Developer Alan Kay
Release dateConcept 1972 [1]

The KiddiComp concept, envisioned by Alan Kay in 1968 while a PhD candidate, [2] [3] and later developed and described as the Dynabook in his 1972 proposal "A personal computer for children of all ages", [1] outlines the requirements for a conceptual portable educational device that would offer similar functionality to that now supplied via a laptop computer or (in some of its other incarnations) a tablet or slate computer with the exception of the requirement for any Dynabook device offering near eternal battery life. Adults could also use a Dynabook, but the target audience was children.


Part of the motivation and funding for the Dynabook project came from the need for portable military maintenance, repair, and operations documentation.[ citation needed ] Eliminating the need to move large amounts of difficult-to-access paper in a dynamic military theatre provided significant US Department of Defense funding.

Though the hardware required to create a Dynabook is here today, Alan Kay still thinks the Dynabook hasn't been invented yet, because key software and educational curricula are missing.[ citation needed ] When Microsoft came up with its tablet PC, Kay was quoted as saying "Microsoft's Tablet PC, the first Dynabook-like computer good enough to criticize". [4]

Toshiba also has a line of sub-notebook computers called DynaBooks. In June 2018, Sharp acquired a majority stake in Toshiba's PC business including laptops and tablets sold under the Dynabook brand. [5] [6]

Original concept

Alan Kay holding the mockup of Dynabook. (November 5, 2008 in Mountain View, CA) Alan Kay and the prototype of Dynabook, pt. 5 (3010032738).jpg
Alan Kay holding the mockup of Dynabook. (November 5, 2008 in Mountain View, CA)

Describing the idea as “A Personal Computer For Children of All Ages.” 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 was one of the inventors of the Logo programming language was proposing. This concept was created two years before the founding of Xerox PARC. The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called “the interim Dynabook”. [7] [8] [9] It embodied all the elements of a graphical user interface, or GUI, as early as 1972. The software component of this research was Smalltalk, which went on to have a life of its own independent of the Dynabook concept.

The hardware on which the programming environment ran was relatively irrelevant.

At the same time, Kay tried in his 1972 article to identify existing hardware components that could be used in a Dynabook, including screens, processors and storage memory. For example:

A standalone ‘smart terminal’ that uses one of these chips for a processor (and includes memory, a keyboard, a display and two cassettes) is now on the market for about $6000. [1]

The Dynabook vision was most fully laid out in Kay’s 1977 article "Personal Dynamic Media", co-authored with collaborator (and Smalltalk co-inventor) Adele Goldberg. [9]

In 2019, Kay gave a detailed answer a question on Quora, about the origins of the Dynabook concept. [10]

Later works

Since the late 1990s, Kay has been working on the Squeak programming system, an open source Smalltalk-based environment which could be seen as a logical continuation of the Dynabook concept.

He is actively involved in the One Laptop Per Child project, which uses Smalltalk, Squeak, and the concepts of a computer for learning.

Related Research Articles

Alan Kay American computer scientist (born 1940)

Alan Curtis Kay is an American computer scientist. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society of Arts. He is best known for his pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design.

Graphical user interface user interface allowing interaction through graphical icons and visual indicators

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  1. 1 2 3 Kay, Alan (1972). "A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages". A standalone ‘smart terminal’ that uses one of these chips for a processor (and includes memory, a keyboard, a display and two cassettes) is now on the market for about $6 000
  2. Richards, Michael ‘Mike’ (January 23, 2008). "Why the iPhone makes 2008 seem like 1968 all over again". Open2.
  3. Steinberg, Daniel H. (April 3, 2003). "Daddy, Are We There Yet? A Discussion with Alan Kay". O'Reilly.
  4. Levy, Steven (April 30, 2001). "Bill Gates Says, Take This Tablet". Newsweek.
  5. 東芝のPC、シャープ売却後も名前は「TOSHIBA」, 朝日新聞 (Asahi Shimbun).
  6. Sharp to Buy Toshiba's Personal Computer Business, License Brand, Bloomberg
  7. "40th Anniversary of the Dynabook", Computer History Museum, archived from the original on 2008-11-08, retrieved 2008-11-04.
  8. "The Laptop Celebrates 40 Years", Wired, Nov 2008.
  9. 1 2 Kay, Alan C.; Goldberg, Adele (March 1977). "Personal Dynamic Media". Computer. 10 (3): 31–41. doi:10.1109/c-m.1977.217672.
  10. Kay, Alan. "Alan Kay's answer to American computer pioneer Alan Kay's concept, the Dynabook, was published in 1972. How come Steve Jobs and Apple iPad get the credit for tablet invention?". Quora . Retrieved 21 April 2019.