Did Stanley Kubrick Invent the iPad in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

While it now bears embar­rass­ing marks of the 1960s here and there, the future envi­sioned by Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey remains, on many lev­els, chill­ing­ly plau­si­ble. True, Pan Am Air­lines went under in the 1990s instead of launch­ing a space sta­tion like they’ve got in the movie, but in the small­er details, 2001 gets a lot right, at least inso­far as its real­i­ty resem­bles the one in which we find our­selves in the actu­al 21st cen­tu­ry. No less an aggre­ga­tion of brain­pow­er than Sam­sung thinks so too: in fact, they’ve gone so far as to cite Kubrick­’s sci-fi mas­ter­work before a judge as proof that the direc­tor invent­ed tablet com­put­ing.

“In 2011, an unusu­al piece of evi­dence was pre­sent­ed in court in a dis­pute between tech­nol­o­gy giants Apple and Sam­sung over the latter’s range of hand­held tablets, which Apple claimed infringed upon the patent­ed design and user inter­face of the iPad,” writes the British Film Insti­tute’s Samuel Wigley.

“As part of Samsung’s defence, the company’s lawyers showed the court a still image and clip show­ing the astro­nauts played by Gary Lock­wood and Keir Dul­lea eat­ing while watch­ing a TV show on their own per­son­al, mini-sized, flat-screen com­put­ers.”

kubrick tablet

Apple and Sam­sung have not, in recent mem­o­ry, played nice. Apple accused Sam­sung of “slav­ish­ly” copy­ing the design of the iPad for their own Galaxy tablet, a charge that in some ways aligns with Sam­sung and oth­er major Kore­an man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies’ rep­u­ta­tion for rapid­ly adapt­ing and even improv­ing upon prod­ucts devel­oped in oth­er coun­tries. Sam­sung’s defense? Watch 2001’s footage of its “News­pads” (above), and you can see that Kubrick invent­ed the tablet before either com­pa­ny — or, in the words of their attor­neys, he invent­ed a com­put­er with “an over­all rec­tan­gu­lar shape with a dom­i­nant dis­play screen, nar­row bor­ders, a pre­dom­i­nate­ly flat front sur­face, a flat back sur­face, and a thin form fac­tor.”

Even in their life­times, 2001 gave Kubrick and his col­lab­o­ra­tor Arthur C. Clarke, sci-fi emi­nence and author of 2001 the book, rep­u­ta­tions as some­thing like seers. “I’m sure we’ll have sophis­ti­cat­ed 3‑D holo­graph­ic tele­vi­sion and films,” Kubrick spec­u­lat­ed in a Play­boy mag­a­zine inter­view we fea­tured last year, “and it’s pos­si­ble that com­plete­ly new forms of enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion will be devised.” Cer­tain­ly the open­ing up of the realm of tablets has made new forms of enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion pos­si­ble, but I won­der: could he ever have imag­ined we would one day use our News­pads to watch 2001 itself?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

1966 Film Explores the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Our High-Tech Future)

James Cameron Revis­its the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Howard Johnson’s Presents a Children’s Menu Fea­tur­ing Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (8)
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  • David Crowley says:

    But in 2001, the movie that is, they still wind the film on in the cam­era when tak­ing the pic­ture of the group stand­ing by the obelisk on the moon.

    Don’t for­get the video phone in Metrop­o­lis, way ahead of its time

  • Daniel says:

    Can we get seri­ous for a moment here? When the first faster-than-light engines will be devel­oped (if they ever will be devel­oped), will lawyers point to Star Trek or Star Wars? There is a huge dif­fer­ence between see­ing some­thing in movie and cre­at­ing the real thing. Unless Kubrick actu­al­ly build a work­ing iPad, he did not invent it. He had an idea. He made a movie that fea­tured it. But he did not cre­ate it. His “iPad” does­n’t work. Apple’s does. They *made* it work. And that deserves respect — no mat­ter what you think about Apple.

  • Charles Duncan says:

    Thanks for the piece. I would dis­agree with the first sen­tence, how­ev­er, by stat­ing it bears “embar­rass­ing marks of the ’60’s.” If any­thing, there should be embar­rass­ment now that we’re behind the curve in what the film thought would have been done almost 15 years ago.

  • Ian says:

    I guess you mean Arthur C. Clarke, since the movie is based on his book, and he describes the device clear­ly in the book.

    See : https://margaretpuls.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/worlds-first-ipad/

  • Paul Tatara says:

    I agree com­plete­ly. The Kubrick wor­ship gets way, way out of hand, par­tic­u­lar­ly on this site. There are tons of inter­views from the peri­od when the film was released where Kubrick makes piles of bold pre­dic­tions about where tech­nol­o­gy will be in the actu­al 2001 — often with appar­ent dead cer­tain­ty — and it’s stuff that we’re still just talk­ing about. But every­body ignores that because his bril­liance knew no bounds. I actu­al­ly adore “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but please.

  • Weru says:

    it’s not the “They made it work” part. Apple says the stole the design, the look of it. Sam­sung says that look was out there already.

  • Charly says:

    Hmmm, fish­ing for clicks? You had to plug the “iPad” brand in your tit­tle? Why not just “tablet”?
    When I recent­ly watched the movie (in awe again of this mar­vel of cin­e­matog­ra­phy) I of course was per­plexed when I saw the TABLETS sequence, but the last thing I though it was “they look like iPads”, what I real­ly imme­di­ate­ly thought was “wow! pret­ty accu­rate con­cep­tion of a futur­is­tic device which we call a TABLET. It’s just like if you were watch­ing Dick Tra­cy and uttered ” did Dick Tra­cy ‘invent’ the Apple Watch?”.
    This just reminds me of fre­quent click fish­ing arti­cles in Mash­able like this old one http://mashable.com/2012/07/23/music-and-memory-dementia/#c6IHBbP4.mq8
    Any­ways, crit­i­cism aside. Yes, it is pret­ty cool to dis­cov­er this kind of ‘East­er eggs’ in movies, spe­cial­ly the ones that you love. Minor­i­ty Report is anoth­er one of my favorite ones that also depicts many con­cepts that now are real and main stream!
    Last­ly, you should take into account that this form fac­tor exist­ed way before apple worked its hype mag­ic on it (now slow­ly dying), yes, way before, includ­ing some designs that resem­ble the shape that they went for in this sequence… I could con­tin­ue, unfor­tu­nate­ly it’s time to go!

  • Daviano says:

    Who said Kubrick invent­ed the iPad? Tablet com­put­ers already exist­ed even before the iPad was devel­oped and the iPad was invent­ed in 2010. There were already tons of ear­ly tablet com­put­ers that came before the iPad was invent­ed and most did­n’t even look like the tablet fea­tured in the movie. The fact that you just focused on the iPad proves how much of an iSheep you are.

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