British industrial designer Bill Moggridge, widely credited as being the inventor of the modern laptop, died at the weekend aged 69. He had been battling with cancer. The “clamshell” design, still the most popular laptop design today, was patented by Mr Moggridge. The design was first used in the GRiD Compass computer designed in 1979 and famously used upon the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
The GRiD Compass featured a flat display, clamshell case and low-profile keyboard that nearly all laptops use today. The laptop retailed at over £5,000 and had the following features;
- CPU: Intel 8086
- Display: 320x240 pixels electroluminescent amber-on-black
- RAM: 340KB
- I/O: IEEE-488 to connect storage devices, 19-pin serial port, 1,200 bit/s modem
- OS: GRiD-OS
- Weight: 5Kg
- Case material: magnesium
- Price: £5000
The design brief for the GRiD Compass was said to be from the US Government wanting a desktop computer that could fit in a briefcase. Mr Moggridge developed the modern laptop clamshell design in 1979, it wasn’t prototyped until 1981 and it was upon this first prototype that he first experienced actually using a computer. The GRiD Compass was subsequently used by the US military during the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and on NASA space shuttle missions. Previous portable computer systems “resembled sewing machines and often weighed as much as nine kilograms” according to The Daily Telegraph.
Bill Moggridge’s industrial design work success found him working with Apple, Microsoft and others on various experimental projects. In 1991 his design firm merged with two others to become IDEO whose computer product designs include the Palm V PDA, Kobo e-book readers and Western Digital drive enclosures. Moggridge sought to share his knowledge and design ideas and worked as a visiting professor at London’s Royal College of Art and as an associate professor in Design at Stanford University, California. Shortly before his death Mr Moggridge was director of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.