DynaBook – Complete History of the DynaBook

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DynaBook – Complete History of the DynaBook

Black and White photo of Alan Kay
Alan Kay was the person who conceived of the Dynabook.

Quick Facts

Original price
$500 (w/ Inflation Factored In)

The History of DynaBook: A Complete Guide

Ph.D. candidate Alan Kay envisions the concept of the DynaBook in 1968. He originally called it the KiddiComp. Kay described the it as “a personal computer for children of all ages.” His proposal outlines the requirements for the portable educational device and would offer similar functionality as what is now known as a laptop or tablet. 

The hardware to create the DynaBook did not exist at the time, but it does now. However, Alan Kay still believes the DynaBook has not been invented. This is because specific software and an educational curriculum are missing. In 1958, Toshiba designed a line of subnotebook computers called DynaBook. In 2018, Sharp acquired a majority stake in Toshiba’s PC business which included the Dynabook. The DynaBook became a worldwide brand in 2019. In 2020 Dynabook Inc. became a 100% subsidiary of Sharp Corporation.

DynaBook: Where to buy

Alan Kay’s vision of the DynaBook does not exist. There are comparable future models – Kay says that Microsoft’s tablet PC is the first similar computer.

In 1985 Toshiba launched its Toshiba T1100 as the first mass-market laptop PC. In 1989, they began using the brand name “DynaBook.” Later, Sharp Corporation bought majority ownership in Toshiba. You can buy Dynabook laptops on the Sharp Corporation website.

Dynabook Sketch
This sketch of the Dynabook shows its intended size and features.

The History of DynaBook: What to know

Alan Kay is an American computer scientist, known for his early pioneering work on computers, object-oriented programming, and windowing graphical user interface design. 

He was born on May 17, 1940, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Molecular Biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before and during this time, he worked as a professional jazz guitarist. In 1966, he began graduate school at the University of Utah College of Engineering, earning a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. degree in 1969. There, he worked with Ivan Sutherland, who had pioneered graphics programs, like Sketchpad. This inspired Kay’s evolving views on objects and programming. 

In 1967 Kay started his first attempt at designing a meta medium (the FLEX machine). It focused on children as the future “user community.” 

Photo of Dynabook in use
The Dynabook, shown here in use, has a keyboard and a screen.

In 1968, Kay met Seymour Papert and learned of the LOGO programming language, a dialect of LISP optimized for educational use. Papert was creating computer systems for children to use creatively on the other side of the United States, at MIT. There, he developed LOGO. Kay sought to create a computer that users could program themselves – which resulted in FLEX. This work led to the definition of object-oriented programming. 

Inspired, in part, by Sutherland’s “Sketchpad,” Kay saw how far this idea could be carried, and refined his notion of why it was important. The next stage of Kay’s work in this area culminated in the programming language Smalltalk. In 1970, Kay joined Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center, PARC. He was one of the key members there to develop prototypes of networked workstations using the programming language Smalltalk. 

Kay presenting the Dynabook
Here, Alan Kay presents the Dynabook to an audience.

In 1968 Kay created a very interesting concept—the Dynabook. He wanted to make A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages—a thin portable computer that was highly dynamic and weighed no more than two pounds. The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called the interim Dynabook. 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 original concept. The Dynabook concept described what is now known as a netbook computer or, (in some of its other incarnations) a tablet PC or slate computer with nearly eternal battery life and software aimed at giving children access to digital media. Adults could also use it, but the target audience was children. The Dynabook was never built, simply because it was too far ahead of technologies in the 1960s and 1970s. Kay and his group however continued to develop the concept. 

The first working prototype of Dynabook was built almost 20 years after creating the concept. But it largely inspired not only the development of the first desktop personal and portable computers (e.g. Xerox NoteTaker drew heavily on Dynabook), graphical user interface, multimedia, as well as the devices we now call laptops, although it’s taken four decades to slim the tech down to the point where usable computers actually weigh below 1 kg.

DynaBook Versions: Each Edition 

There are no additional versions of Kay’s concept of the DynaBook. However, there are additional versions of Toshiba’s Dynabook creation. 

The public response

Toshiba’s Dynabook was a success. As of 2021 Dynabook had 17.16 billion yen in annual sales. 

Where to Buy  

You can buy the it through the Sharp Corporation website or this Amazon Link 

Next Up…

Frequently Asked Questions

When did Dynabook come out? 

The DynaBook’s first working prototype was built in the 1980’s almost twenty years after the concept was created.

What was the original price of Dynabook?

Originally the Dynabook (with inflation factored in) would cost $500

Who invented Dynabook?

Alan Kay 

Is Dynabook part of Toshiba?

Yes, Dynabook was created by Toshiba. Then Sharp Corporation bought a majority stake in Toshiba. 

Where are Dynabook laptops made?

Toshiba originally build the Dynabook in Japan.

How much does a Dynabook cost?


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