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The I-Pad and the Information Furnace-1994

Gizmodo recently posted about an  Associate Press article that ran in June 1994 in which I describe a number of things including the Information Furnace and the I-Pad.  This post has been moving around in the world of iPad blogs and there are a number of comments.  Rather than reply to them on the various blogs, I thought I would do that here and link to my post on a few of those blogs.  Here is the quote about the I-Pad.

From the Associated Press:

“One of the devices that’s interesting, we call it an I-pad, an information pad,” [Avram] Miller said. “It would be a device that has a flat-panel screen. You can write on it, touch it. You might be able to speak into it and it might speak back. It would be wireless, cheap and have different forms in the house.”


i-Furnace, not one of my better ideas?

So as my buddy and former  Co-Corporate Rebel, Steve McGeady (well known for his testimony against Microsoft in the US Government Monopoly suite which ended up neutering Microsoft), said to me on Facebook, “the Information Furnace was not one of my better ideas.”  I partially agree with him but not completely.  Let me explain my objective in describing that concept back in 1994.

Remember this was 1994

First of all the article talks about Intel but frankly, Intel management had no idea what was going on.  I was pretty popular with the tech press because I was user friendly and good with sound bites.  I found out that if I communicated my ideas directly at Intel, for instance in our strategic long range planing process (SLRP as it is still know), I was usually mocked particularly by Andy Grove.  But if they read those same ideas in a news or a magazine, they thought it made sense.  The other company I was trying to influence was Microsoft.

We need to understand the circumstances of home computing back in the summer of 1994 when the original article was published.  Cable Modems were just being tested. It would be a few years before many of the cable companies together with TCI (John Malone) and the VC firm Kleiner Perkins formed @home  and Time Warner and some other cable companies launched Roadrunner.   The Cable companies were still working on Intelligence Set Top boxes and specialized equipment to offer telephone services.  Broadband Internet was still way down on their list of priorities. Almost the same thing was going on with the Phone companies however they wanted to offer TV services since they already had the phone part.

A new medium needs to be born

I was totally committed to create a new medium based on the connected PC and high speed residential broadband  but was up against a number of issues. Here are some of the issues:

The cable companies wanted to own the cable modems just as they still own the set top boxes.  The last thing they were interested in was having a cable modem sold at retail.  Anyway there was no way to connect the modem that could work at that speed to a PC unless it was an add-in board. USB  for instance was not yet released (It was in development by a number of companies including Intel).  Home computers did not come with ethernet connections.  The first cable modems where installed in home computers by cable techs that had to actually open the computer, install the board, install software, run a coax cable to the computer etc.  You get the  idea.

In order or the computer to become the dominate form of computing  in the house, it had to be available to all the members of the home.  But even if one was willing to share a computer with the family which many did, it meant going to where the computer was since few homes had portable computers.

Central Heating/Central Computing

Then as now, I was always thinking about alternative computer architectures.  I thought that if there was one computer in the home that was attached to the high speed broadband network, it could be shared by various lower cost devices in the home.  It was kind of going back to timesharing  which is again the trend we see in cloud computing.

Andy Grove, Intel’s CEO was finally getting on board with the idea of the PC dominating the computing environment of the home but frankly, he thought it would use communications technologies like ISDN.  I remember vividly, Andy laughing at me when I told him it would be cable modems.

The I-Pad was cheap compared to a PC

I imagined a number of devices in the home that would be low cost.  I used the word cheap and I see lots of comments on the blog that the iPad was anything but cheap.  Well maybe I should have said “low cost”.  In 1994 the average PC cost about $2,500 in today’s dollars.  I thought that devices like iPads would cost about $500 or 20% of the cost of a PC.  That is what I meant.

I was hoping to get Microsoft to invest in the Information Furnace as I described back then.  But they also though that the “The TV was it”and not “The “PC was it.”  So in this sense, the information Furnace was not one of my better ideas.  But I still think it could have changed the game for Microsoft and perhaps for Intel.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

There is some discussion about Intel having the ability to go after Apple for the use of the iPad name.  I think there is no merit to that concept.  We never built a product.  Anyway, Intel wanted Apple as a customer and was constantly trying to get them so we would have gladly given the trademark if we had it, I would suspect.

How were all these devices to connect in the home

I am trying to remember how I imagined that all these devices would connect.  Hopefully it will come back to me.  I doubt that I thought it would be wifi since that was way in the future.  I think I thought about some connection via the installed telephone cables in most house.  Not really ethernet because that was still to expenses.

More predictions

I am still making prediction but without out the power of Intel’s PR they will probably not make there way to someone’s blog in 2034.

One thought on “The I-Pad and the Information Furnace-1994

  1. As usual you were thinking laterally. Like you said the Cable Modem had to go into the PC the lack of a Ethernet or other high speed port was an issue so when I named the General instrument first cable modem board SurfBoard it was very appropriate, except for a few weeks Intel objected, then backed down much to my surprise. As you we’ll remember many cable people at that time tried to bury the idea even though a few cable operators were more adventurous such as Comcast others such as TCI did not see it in their future. I still have the scars of the arrows.

    The idea of using the family PC as a hub was a leap into the future back then. You deserve more than a footnote in history


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