Five Years of the iPad: A Brief History

Today marks five years since the launch of the iPad on 3 April 2010. To mark the anniversary, weve charted the ups and downs of the last half-decade for the device that first introduced tablets to the mainstream.

Steve Jobs iPad launchRumours into reality
When Steve Jobs took to the stage on January 27 2010 in San Francisco, rumours of an Apple tablet had been circling for the best part of a decade. Speculation about the device, commonly tipped to be named iTablet or iSlate, began in 2002 after the release of the first iPod. Over the intervening years, a steady stream of insider sources and uncovered patents kept the rumour alive.

The tablets origins even preempted the iPhone. Multi-touch technology was originally presented to Steve Jobs as part of a “portable web surfing appliance” called the the Safari Pad – but Jobs decided the technology would be a better fit for a smaller mobile device.

Those rumours all finally paid off at Apples January 2010 press conference in San Francisco, with the unveiling of the iPad. At the time, Mobile Marketings coverage of the launch described the device, with its 9.7” screen, as “looking a little like a super-sized iPhone”. The iPad came in two flavours: the cheaper option, starting at $499, only featured wi-fi connectivity, while a version with added 3G capability was available through AT&T, costing upwards of $629.

The wi-fi model hit the shelves in the US on 3 April that year, with 300,000 units sold that first day purely through Apples own stores. On 3 May, by which point the 3G-enabled version was also available, Apple announced it had sold 1m units – just 28 days after launch, compared to the 74 days it took the first iPhone to hit the same milestone.

The iPad became available outside of the US on 28 May, launching in nine countries including the UK. Less than a month later, on 22 June, sales passed the 3m mark, pushing Apples Q3 revenues to a record $15.7bn.

In total, the iPad accounted for 83 per cent of tablet sales in 2010, according to Gartner figures. As far as the public was concerned, iPad was synonymous with tablet, and people were quickly using the two words interchangeably, the same way they might say Hoover to refer to a vacuum cleaner of any brand.

Sky News iPadGoing soft
It wasnt just the iPad hardware itself that proved to successful. Over 1m apps and over 250,000 eBooks were downloaded by iPad users in the first 24 hours following its launch. The iPad helped drive the growth of the App Store, and by the end of 2010, there were 350,000 iOS apps available – over 65,000 of which were designed specifically for the iPad.

Publishers in particular flocked to the iPad, with the likes of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Metro all launching tablet apps which used the iPads larger screen to present digital experiences that closely mirrored their physical editions.

In general, many companies which had previously ignored mobile started to release their first apps on the iPad, due to the way it straddled the divide between smartphone and desktop. Among these was Netflix, which at the time of the iPads launch had just started to make the move from being a DVD rental site to the streaming service it is best known as today. On Netflixs Q4 2009 earnings call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said mobile was “not a huge priority”, but by the time the iPad reached shelves, the streaming service had its own app for the tablet, months ahead of its iPhone launch.

iPad familyThe family expands
By the time its successor launched on 11 March 2011, the first-generation iPad had sold over 15m units.

The iPad 2 introduced front- and back-facing cameras and an A5 processor that was purportedly twice as fast as its predecessor, but the most important change was a smaller form factor. The iPad 2 was around 15 per cent lighter and 33 per cent thinner than the first generation.

These kind of incremental improvements defined each subsequent iPad announcement. The third generation device, which launched on 16 March 2012, dropped the numbering system in favour of simply the new iPad. It was most notable for introducing a 2048×1536 Retina Display, a selling point which helped it shift 3m units in the opening weekend.

Another iPad event was scheduled for 23 October, just six months later. With Apple facing more competition for the tablet market than ever before, particularly from Samsung and Amazon, this raised a few eyebrows. It seemed that the company was not answering its challengers with innovative new features but rather a compressed launch cycle, leading some to question whether the company had lost its way since the death of Jobs in October 2011.

This wasnt helped by the next iteration that was unveiled at the October 2012 event. Confusingly announced only as the iPad, this fourth-generation models most major addition was the Lightning connector, which proved unpopular for abandoning the universal charging system used by earlier Apple products.

Luckily, however, this wasnt the only iPad announcement Apple had up its sleeve. Seemingly responding to the increasingly popular sector of mobile devices blurring the line between mobile and tablet, it launched the 7.9” iPad Mini.

Following the October 2013 introduction of the iPad Air, Apple at least had a clearer offering to customers, split into two distinct lines. It has since released multiple devices in both the Air and Mini lines, now on their second and third iterations respectively, and today Apple doesnt sell any devices with the plain iPad branding.

iPad aeroplaneWhat happens next?
During this time, the iPad had found its way into two locations that, back in 2010, no one would have really anticipated: stores, where a huge number of retail brands are equipping staff with the devices to help customers, and schools. In June 2013, with 10m iPads already in schools, Apple signed a $30m deal with the Los Angeles Board of Education to supply one of the tablets to every student on 47 of the states campuses.

However, the iPads dominance of the consumer tablet market is now a thing of the past. In 2013, Android accounted for the majority of tablet sales for the first time, according to Gartner. Apples share dropped from 54.8 per cent in 2012 to 36 per cent, while Android grabbed 61.9 per cent of the market, driven by the increasing demand for cheaper low-end tablets.

At that point, sales of the iPad were still growing, albeit less than their competitors. But Apple has reported a year-on-year drop in sales of its tablet for the past four consecutive quarters. In Q2 2014, sales were down 19.6 per cent on the same quarter a year earlier. In Q3, they were down nine per cent; in Q4, down 7.5 per cent; and in Q1 2015, down 18 per cent, despite the October launch of the latest Air 2 and Mini 3 models.

Its worth remembering that iPads are still shifting in huge numbers – even at the lowest point over the past 12 months, 12.3m units were sold in a single quarter – and the drop-off isnt doing much to hurt Apples bottom line. It posted net profits of $18bn in Q1, not just a record for the company but the highest ever posted by any company in the world.

With the Apple Watch launching later this month, following a similar extended period of speculation to the iPad back in 2010, it appears that the cycle is about to begin again. As Apple steps into another new market, this time wearables, it will be fascinating to look back in five years time at how closely the Apple Watch follows the iPads trajectory – and, of course, where the iPad itself is after 10 years of life.