By Matthew Calamia

It’s all around us, “You’re following the best minds in the world.” The university’s professors and alumni have had their hands on some of the world’s biggest medical and technological breakthroughs, raising Stony Brook’s reputation as a result.

Computer science professor Steven Skiena has been teaching at Stony Brook since 1988. In the same year as a Ph. D. student at the University of Illinois, and with the help of fellow students, he designed the computer of the year 2000 for a competition. Apple sponsored the competition.

Skiena and his team came up with the idea for a tablet computer, about the size of a notebook, with touch sensitive technology, allowing the user to type or even write on it. They imagined it would be able to communicate with other similar devices through a network, much like Wi-Fi today.

Does this sound familiar?


It should. On January 27, 2010, Apple unveiled its iPad, a tablet computer about the size of a notebook, weighing just 1.5 lbs. It is fully touch-screen and has Wi-Fi capability as well.

The University of Illinois won the competition and presented their idea before a panel of Apple executives, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Skiena, just 27 at the time, said, “It was a lot of fun. We got to meet some famous people and were wined and dined in style. It was much better than we were usually treated as graduate students.”

Since it has been over twenty years since the competition, seeing Apple’s final product of something he helped create was a great moment for Skiena. “It was pretty cool,” he said upon seeing its debut, “This is clearly the machine nearest to our original version. Apple does make interesting and exciting products.”

Skiena said the team still keeps in touch, and discussed the differences and similarities between Apple’s tablet and the one created by them as graduate students.

Some may believe that Apple essentially stole the idea, but Skiena debunks that theory. “It has been 22 years, well past the statute of limitations for stealing ideas.”

“Nothing was stolen,” he continued, “We may have served as inspiration to the designers, but they were living with real technology and economic constraints in ways we did not and could not.”

Skiena has some qualms with Apple’s final decisions. “I wanted a camera, and cannot really understand why it is not there,” he said. “The camera would be valuable for video conferencing. I would have wanted to see more support for writing by hand on the touch screen, so it can replace a pad of paper for taking notes.”

But where does he fall in the Apple/ PC turf war? “Between home and office, we have three Apple machines.”

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