Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How MID Tablets Work

The iPad is categorized by some as a mobile Internet device (MID), but the term is more commonly used to refer to less expensive devices.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the 1940s, around a hundred years after Charles Babbage envisioned the concept of a mechanical computing device, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was created. The first working computer, the ENIAC was a 30-ton beast that took up a huge room and whose processing power was provided by thousands of vacuum tubes. Shortly thereafter, the transistor was invented, and these replaced the vacuum tube. Around a decade later, a process was developed to carve all the needed transistors and other components out of solid blocks of material, which ushered in the invention of the microchip, or microprocessor, a tiny chip that performs all the data processing tasks of a computer. These became smaller and smaller, until we were eventually creating them at the atomic scale, and due to this miniaturization of computer components, the devices that housed them also got smaller and smaller. As more transistors fit onto increasingly tiny chips, their processing power grew and grew as their size diminished.

Meanwhile, in the late 1960s, the U.S. military developed ARPANET, which evolved into the Internet. It was largely a data-sharing tool for scientists and other academics until the 1990s, when Tim Berners-Lee came up with the World Wide Web, which made the Internet the repository of all useful and useless knowledge, and the enabler of much impulse shopping that we know today.

And as the computing world went from wired to wireless, it was only a matter of time before we insisted on being able to carry the Internet around with us wherever we go.

This led the human race to create the Mobile Internet Device (MID), a small, highly portable gadget that allows us to get on the Web to check e-mail, update our social networking sites of choice, play games and locate ourselves on a map, among many other things.

But what devices can be considered MIDs?