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RIP John Ellenby – Pioneer Of Laptops Dies At 75

We are all too familiar with laptops today. About hundreds of millions of them sell every year. In fact, some laptop models cost much less than most high-end smartphones. Yet, it was a once an unconventional and highly expensive product.

In 1982, John Ellenby released Compass – the first ever laptop-like computer. He worked at Grid Systems at the time and his briefcase styled computer revolutionized the computer industry. Ellenby died at the age of 75 on August 17th as first reported by the New York Times.

John Ellenby. Credits: Kompass


Today, the appearance of Compass will cause you to grin or at least smirk. It was heavy and opened like a briefcase. A protrusion at the back of the machine existed to save the laptop from overheating. The Compass had a screen and its display looked like some billboard writing. Can you guess what it cost at the time? No? It was priced at $8,150! Which amounts to $20,324 today.

The Compass computer became an important tool for corporations, government spies, White House officials and astronauts. Credit: GRiD Systems

This computer was not made for the general public but was widely used by  government agencies like NASA. The Desktop computers made their debut in the early 80’s and Ellenby released the next trend in computers simultaneously. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that he was ahead of his time as it took more than two decades for laptops to surpass desktops in production and sales.

NASA astronaut John Creighton poses with a Grid laptop in a 1985 photo. Credits: NASA

Ellenby was a visionary and his quest did not stop at laptops. In the 1990s, he co-founded GeoVector that worked on augmented reality, an ability of the computer to overlay information over what is visible to humans. Fortunately, Ellenby lived long enough to see augmented reality manifest itself through the most popular game on the planet – the Pokemon Go, of course!