A Decade of iPad

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We are just a few hours from the close of another decade and it’s a natural time to look back and see just how much things have changed in the last ten years. One of those big changes for Apple fans like myself has been the iPad.

Steve Jobs announced the iPad at an event on January 27, 2010 and I remember it well. I was already a big fan of the iPhone and I had always been intrigued by tablets and touhscreen devices. Windows tablets had never made any real impact on the market and I wondered if Apple could use their creativity and momentum to succeed where several others had already failed.

Boy did they. Many initially expected the iPad to feel and work like a big iPod Touch, but it really didn’t. Part of the reason for that is that developers quickly embraced the larger screen and built apps specifically for the iPad. As the iPhone had done a few years earlier, Apple quickly built up a tablet ecosystem of software and accessories before their competition could respond and got out to a big early lead. As the Apple Watch has become synonymous with smartwatch today, so the iPad became the de-facto tablet pretty early on.

Here are some of key points that come to my mind when I think back on ten years of the iPad:

The price is right

When the rumors of an Apple tablet started to leak ahead of the announcement, one of the biggest questions was what would it cost. At the time, most tablets were prohibitively expensive, which was a big reason why they never gained any traction in the market. One of the strongest selling points of the original iPad was the reasonable price.

Based on the rumored specs, I was expecting $999 going into the announcement. I knew I couldn’t buy one right away, but I was interested to find out if it would at least be attainable and $999 for a tablet really wasn’t for me at the time. When I heard Jobs say $499, I was floored. I knew right then I would be getting one eventually. I bought a used one by Summer.

The pricing of the iPad has ebbed and flowed over the years. With more models has come a wide range of prices today. Other then during a two year period when sales fell off a cliff, I think Apple has done a good to great job keeping the pricing, especially at the low end of the lineup, accessible.

Shaking things up

People forget or lose sight of things over the course of ten years. It’s a very easy thing to do. In regards to the iPad, it’s easy to forget just how much influence and impact the early iPads had on the laptop market in the early to mid 2010s.

The original iPad was born into a world that was littered with Netbooks. Remember those? If you don’t, you didn’t miss anything good. These torture devices they were small 8 to 12 inch Windows XP clamshell mini laptops with terrible battery life, underpowered processors and limited ram. The keyboards were tiny and the screens usually not so good. Don’t even get me started on the trackpads. They only thing they had going for them is that they were cheap.

In one year, Apple took a huge bite out of this market. By the end of year two, they had burned it to the ground. The iPad almost single-handedly ended the Netbook. While the iPad did cost more and didn’t come with a keyboard, it didn’t matter. While the netbook’s only redeeming quality was price, the iPad was built around performing many of the same core tasks, such as web surfing and reading email, more effectively. As Apple had already proved with several previous devices, people will pay more for hardware that has great design and software that performs well.

The success of the iPad made laptop makers go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make better, more usable machines, especially at the low end. The iPad also forced Microsoft and its partners to fully embrace touch computing, whether they wanted to or not. The success of both Apple’s iPad and  MacBook Air is responsible for the Windows laptops that we have today. It’s also a big reason that we have fully touch-enabled versions of productivity apps, such as Microsoft Office.

Steve’s last ride

On May 2, 2011, Steve Jobs showed up to announce the new iPad 2. The significance at the time was that his appearance was a bit of a surprise, as he had recently stepped away for his third medical leave. However, this would be the last major product announcement that he would make before passing away in October.

The thing that stood out to me was that he knew that he had a winner. As solid and polished as the original iPad was for a first gen product, the iPad 2 just took everything to the next level. It was thinner and lighter. It had a better screen and better battery life. Of course it was faster, which was key for running the new iPad apps that were coming out every day. Every aspect of the iPad 2 was better and it sold for same $499 price as the original. The first iPad got the ball rolling , but this was the one that really took off.

It was fitting that Jobs got to reveal this device. It was very clear that the iPad was near and dear to him. I’m sure he appreciated getting to show off a device that more fully delivered the vision of where Apple was going with tablets while he was still able to.

Setting new standards

I doubt Apple went into the launch of the iPad looking to turn web standards on their head. However, when people love a device, they tend to demand that the websites and software they want to use work with it. Unfortunately, back in 2010 Flash and Java were still very prevalent on many websites.

This debate had already started with the iPhone, but the large screen of the iPad made it such a natural web surfing replacement that it became the catalyst for a move away from outside platforms and to the open web and HTML5.

Unfortunately, I remember this all too well because the company I work was researching a website redesign in late 2010 and early 2011. We actually interviewed a company that specialized in HTML5 sites that would be mobile and iPad friendly. They were a little ahead of their time, but sold the fact that what they were doing was where the market was heading.

While time proved them right, we went with a well-respected flash developer in our area. She delivered a great looking site, too. I remember specifically asking her about the iPad and HTML5 in one of our meetings and she just grimaced. She was already worried that Apple was pushing for change that would hurt her business.

She was right. We had to completely rebuild the site again just six years later because no one could see it on their smartphone or iPad. Many couldn’t even see it on their computers because they no longer installed Flash Player. Flash was a dead end and an invisible website doesn’t do anything for you.

Again, the driving force behind the fast shift in the way that websites were designed and built was the iPad. It’s easy to forget today from the other side, but Apple’s tablet was transformative in more ways than one in its early years.

Going Pro

One of the biggest complaints about the iPad, from both tech writers and some users, is the fact that it isn’t a full laptop replacement. While Apple has touted it as the future of computing for years, they have frankly taken their sweet time getting us to that future.

A perfect example is the iPad Pro. The original 12.9″ Pro was released a full four years ago to address some of these problems, as well as the falling sales of Apple tablets at the time. It was a start. It offered a larger screen, a great stylus option, a mediocre (in my opinion) keyboard attachment and basic multitasking. However, it was still pretty kludgy and quite expensive.

I loved the large screen of the 12.9″ Pro from the time I laid hands on it. However, I also know why it was a tough sell for many. If you didn’t need, or at least really want the Pencil, it was hard to justify the price. It was also to big for some users, which is why Apple next started bringing out smaller Pro models.

As the next two years came and went, Apple added hardware and software features that made the Pro a more compelling device. However, it wasn’t until last year’s iPad Pro hardware met this year’s newly-forked iPadOS 13 that we got tablet that begins to make good on Apple’s promises regarding the iPad.

My father and mother-in-law have been using iPads as their primary computing devices for a few years now. However, they really only need the basics. The bare essentials. The current iPad Pro with iPadOS 13 is the first that I can say really pushes beyond that. While it still can’t fully replace my work laptop, there are many people at my office who could effectively work off of one if they chose to. The pool of people who could do this should only grow.

Only time will tell how much and how fast Apple will continue to push the iPad Pro and iPadOS 13 forward. However, it is pretty crazy to look back as how far they’ve come from the beginning until now.

Time for another 10 years

Where will the iPad go in the 2020s? That’s a story for another article. Today, I’m more in the mood to look back and see how far we’ve come. It’s easy to take the iPad for granted after 10 years. This is especially true because sales peaked several years ago and then proceeded to plummet. However, the world’s preeminent tablet has proven to be both transformative and resilient.

Many people dismissed the iPad at launch. Then they wrote it off as failed and dead when sales fell a few years later. However, between a more compelling pro lineup and a hard-to-beat entry-level iPad, Apple has stabilized device sales and revenue and renewed interest in the product as its first ten years draws to a close. It may not be the star of the Apple show, but it isn’t going anywhere, either.

The crazy thing to me is to look back at just how influential the iPad has been. This tablet has been an agent and catalyst of change for a full decade. It pretty much single-handedly killed off netbooks and Flash. It set the standard for how a digital stylus will function with a computing device. It forced laptop manufacturers to actually give a damn. It pushed Microsoft to throw its hat into the ring and release its own computing hardware. It was one of Steve Jobs’ last gifts to us. It may not be the iPhone, but that’s a pretty solid list.

All I can say is bring on 10 more years of the iPad. I can’t wait to see what they will hold.

Happy New Year!


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