Apple chief executive Steve Jobs revealed an interesting fact in the chronology of iPad/iPhone design tonight at the D8 conference. He basically said that Apple started working on a tablet computer before it began creating the iPhone.

In an interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Jobs said, “I’ll tell you a secret. It began with the tablet. I had this idea about having a glass display, a multitouch display you could type on with your fingers. I asked our people about it. And six months later, they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant [user interface] guys. He got scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, ‘my God, we can build a phone with this!’ So we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the iPhone.”

That was around four years ago. Today, after waiting in line behind the iPhone, the iPad has finally launched, it has sold more than 2 million units, and it has inspired a new wave of imitators. It’s fair to say that the iPad and tablets are in the midst of redefining what a personal computer is. If Apple had made a different choice, or if it had developed the iPad in parallel with the iPhone, then we might be in a very different market. Jobs added, “The transformation of the PC to new form factors like the tablet is going to make some people uneasy because the PC has taken us a long ways. The PC is brilliant, and we like to talk about the post-PC era, but it’s uncomfortable.”

As tablets grow up, they will be used for content creation tasks such as productivity apps and video editing, Jobs said. That means they could supplant the PC in a lot of ways.

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It’s too bad that Apple started with the idea to innovate in the mobile computer market and then put it on hold. Perhaps Apple needed to learn the lessons it did from making the iPhone before turning to the iPad. And the iPad idea probably needed to slow cook for a while. Jobs said that the iPad certainly would not have worked with a PC operating system.

But it’s too bad that the iPad was put on hold for so long. It seems like a lost opportunity. I guess it just means that you can really do everything all at once. But I suspect we would be using very different computers today if the tablet revolution had started earlier. [photo credit: Reuters]

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