Eleven years ago today, Steve Jobs walked out on stage and continued a string of huge hardware hits that went back over a decade by that point. He announced the original iPad and in one fell swoop, changed the tablet business forever.
People often forget that tablets didn’t just exist before the iPad- they had actually been around a long time. I can remember the days of the Windows Tablet PC and large pen or touch devices like the Apple Newton. While there were some great ideas developed and lots of innovation that came from such devices, there’s still a reason that they didn’t ultimately succeed in attracting large numbers of users. They were expensive and often overly complex and difficult to operate.
Things changed with the iPad. It was simple and straightforward and thanks to the success of the iPhone and its App Store, it came with access to a ton of free or inexpensive touch-enabled apps on day one. At $499 the original iPad was also a solid value for what you got.
The iPad quickly became THE tablet, in the same way that Band Aid became the brand name for bandages or Ziplock the default term for storage bags. While Google and its Android partners tried for years to gain a foothold, they never really succeeded. Well, unless you count Amazon’s Fire tablets, but they really aren’t the same thing as other Android tablets, or iPads. And a full eleven years on, Apple’s tablets still reign supreme.
Speaking of reigning supreme, just today we had a little reminder of that with Apple’s 2021 First Quarter results. It seems that iPad sales were incredibly strong last quarter, up a surprising 41% year over year. That translates to an increase of $2.4 billion in Apple tablet revenue. Considering that the Holiday season is traditionally a healthy period for iPad sales, this is a notably impressive performance.
There have been plenty of questions about the direction of the iPad over the last few years. Even with the improvements that iPadOS and its feature additions, some still question Apple’s management of the device and its OS. I do believe there is still plenty of room for improvement in the platform and there remain many new features to add. However, I think the foundation Apple has built for its tablets and the current product lineup are both very strong. I believe last quarter’s sales prove that.
While Holiday purchases were certainly a significant portion of the 2021 first quarter numbers, I can’t help but think that the education market also had a huge impact on sales. Large numbers of students around the world are still doing some to all of their classwork online and the iPad is a perfect tool for that task. I’m sure there are also some buyers who are working from home and don’t require a desktop OS who have turned to Apple’s tablets for their needs. Maybe there are some others like me who bought one to use as a secondary work device. I do pretty much all of my work Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings with my iPad so I can keep my laptop free for other things.
Another intriguing question that we don’t know the answer to is which iPads people were buying. I always assume that the base-model iPad is the best selling model. However, I think that device’s share changes over time. I would be very interested in seeing just how much the iPad Air sold, since it offers a lot of features that the lower-end iPad can’t match at a more reasonable price than the Pro. I believe it will eventually become the default iPad. Was last quarter a step in that direction?
Whoever is buying and whatever their reasons, Apple’s quarterly results have made one thing very clear. The iPad is still very relevant eleven years after its release. It’s still king of the hill when it comes to tablets and I can’t help but think that, between the new iPad Pros with miniLED screens that are coming soon and what I believe will be an ambitious update with iPadOS 15 this summer, 2021 will be an even bigger year for the iPad.