The idea of tablet computers had been around for quite a long time before Apple launched its first iPad in 2010 (the first commercial tablet, the GriDPad, went on sale way back in 1989). But before the iPad, tablets were something of a niche idea. What Apple did was to turn the tablet from something that nobody knew they wanted into a desirable - and crucially practical - object.
In this guide, I want to take a look at the history of Apple’s iconic iPad and, perhaps more importantly, what the future holds for this device.
The First iPad
The first iPads appeared in the US in March 2010 and were Wi-Fi only. 3G models didn’t appear until the following month and even then could only be used with a single service provider and on a limited range of data plans. It was the end of May before the iPad launched outside the US.
The launch of the iPad marks a number of firsts. It was the first Apple device to use a processor that had been designed in-house. It also put the multi-touch interface of the iPhone on a much larger display. Alongside the iPad, Apple launched iBooks to try to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.
It proved an immediate hit with consumers, selling a million units after it’s US launch before it even went on sale to the rest of the world.
Faster, Lighter, Thinner
A year on from the original launch came the iPad 2. This featured a faster processor, a lighter and thinner case and magnetically attached ‘Smart Covers’. Added features included front and rear cameras, together with a gyroscope and a rear-facing camera opening up a range of the functions, most notably FaceTime.
In 2012, the third generation iPad appeared with the first ‘Retina’ display. However, it proved underpowered and was replaced later the same year by the iPad 4 which was also the first to use Apple’s ‘Lightning’ connector.
At the same time, facing competition from Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Apple launched the iPad Mini. This had a technical spec similar to the iPad 2 but with a smaller 7.9-inch display.
The iPad Air launched in 2013, thinner and lighter with smaller bezels and, once again, a faster CPU with a motion co-processor for smoother graphics. Around the same time, the Mini 2 launched, upgrading to a Retina display on the smaller model for the first time.
By 2014 the iPhone 6 had launched with larger 4.7-inch screens and the iPads needed to up their game to compete. The Air 2 brought in a triple-core processor and more RAM as well as Touch ID, while the Mini 3 added Touch ID to the features of the Mini 2.
In 2015, Apple set out to make the iPad a more attractive tool for professional users. This saw the launch of the iPad Pro with a big 12.0-inch screen and 4GB of RAM (double the Air 2’s), in addition to an optional keyboard and support for the Apple Pencil stylus, allowing you to draw and write on the screen.
A smaller 9.7-inch pro followed in 2016 with 2GB of RAM and a slightly slower CPU. It also introduced a ‘True Tone’ display feature, allowing the colour temperature of the screen to be aligned with the ambient lighting.
At the same time, the Mini 4 launched, also with 2GB of RAM. This period also saw the launch of the iOS9 operating system with Picture in Picture, Slide-Over and Split View features.
With competitors such as the Microsoft Surface snapping at its heels, in June 2017 the iPad Pro gained hexa-core processor chips and gave the smaller version a 10.5-inch screen with smaller bezels. It also dropped the Air 2 in favour of a budget machine with Pencil compatibility but without features such as a rear flash and True Tone display. Towards the end of 2017, iOS 11 saw the introduction of improved multitasking features.
2018 heralded the appearance of the sixth generation entry-level iPad with a 9.7-inch screen but minimal hardware changes other than an upgraded processor and Pencil support. The latest iPad Pros have a choice of 11-inch or 12.9-inch screens. Apple has managed to fit the 11-inch display into the same case size as the previous 10.5-inch model and reduced the size of the larger one’s case so they are closer together in size.
For the first time up to a terabyte of storage is available on the top models. There’s also a magnetic connector that allows the Pencil to attach to the side of the tablet and to be charged wirelessly. Feature-wise there’s now Face ID as used on iPhone X models.
So what of the future? Apple generally keeps new releases close to its chest, but there are always rumours around the industry as to what’s going to happen next. The tablet market has become fiercely competitive in the past couple of years with cheap Android models dominating the lower end of the market. It’s rumoured that we could see a smaller and much cheaper iPad Mini 5 in 2019 in an effort to broaden the brand’s appeal.
New iPad Pros are not likely to appear until late summer or autumn, but having had a major refresh in 2018, big changes to the design seem unlikely. Users of iPads tend not to update as frequently as iPhone buyers so Apple tends to wait longer between major model releases.