Mobile Technology

Five years ago today, Apple reinvented the personal computer

Five years ago today, Apple re...
As today marks the five-year anniversary of the original iPad announcement, Gizmag takes a look back at the innovation that was (and is)
As today marks the five-year anniversary of the original iPad announcement, Gizmag takes a look back at the innovation that was (and is)
View 5 Images
Now that tablets are ubiquitous, hindsight makes it easy to forget about the uncertainty surrounding the iPad's launch in 2010
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Now that tablets are ubiquitous, hindsight makes it easy to forget about the uncertainty surrounding the iPad's launch in 2010
As today marks the five-year anniversary of the original iPad announcement, Gizmag takes a look back at the innovation that was (and is)
2/5
As today marks the five-year anniversary of the original iPad announcement, Gizmag takes a look back at the innovation that was (and is)
The iPad has come a long way in five years, but the original was like nothing we'd seen before
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The iPad has come a long way in five years, but the original was like nothing we'd seen before
Steve Jobs dropping the bomb on January 27, 2010
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Steve Jobs dropping the bomb on January 27, 2010
The original iPad (left) with today's iPad Air 2
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The original iPad (left) with today's iPad Air 2
View gallery - 5 images

Five years ago today, Steve Jobs stood onstage and talked about a new kind of mobile device that would sit somewhere between smartphone and laptop. After a spot-on dismissal of netbooks ("they aren't better at anything"), he showed us Apple's answer: the iPad. Half a decade later, tablets may be well-trodden ground, but there's still no question that the iPad was a breakthrough innovation that changed our world.

It's easy to take that iPad announcement for granted today, in much the same way that we'd take for granted the transition from horse to automobile, or from typewriters to desktop PCs. We now see the multitouch tablet as a natural evolution in the history of computers.

But in early 2010, the iPad was a bold idea – and one that drew its share of skepticism. Some said that an Apple tablet needed to be more than this ("it's just an oversized iPod touch with no USB ports?!"). Others believed there just wasn't room for a 'tweener device between phone and laptop, and that the iPad didn't have enough of a clear-cut purpose. Others still thought it was doomed to fail because its name conjured images of feminine hygiene products.

So much for all that.

Within weeks of its April 2010 launch, it was clear that there was plenty you could do with an iPad, and that it was going to be yet another breakthrough on Jobs' watch (ultimately the last). Millions of customers loved the device's blend of simplicity, versatility and portability. You could surf the web on it one minute, play Plants vs. Zombies on it the next, and then move on to browsing photos or reading a best-seller.

Apple successfully framed its lack of a single purpose as a strength: rather than an aimless 'tweener, the iPad was a "magical" device that could be anything you wanted it to be.

The iPad has come a long way in five years, but the original was like nothing we'd seen before
The iPad has come a long way in five years, but the original was like nothing we'd seen before

Most of all, the iPad was a smash hit because it forced us to rethink the personal computer. Apple loved to talk about a post-PC era, but if you take the words literally, then the tablet was (and is) the ultimate PC. The iPad was the most personal computer ever made: nearly as powerful as a laptop, only much more portable and infinitely more fun.

It's easy to forget what a novelty this was five years ago. We already had multitouch smartphones (mostly the iPhone, as Android handsets hadn't yet caught on), but most people didn't think of iPhones as computers. Computers were either bulky Windows-running towers or keyboard-laden laptops. The idea that a light and handheld multitouch slate could do many of the things we previously did on PCs – in a more personal way – was an eye-opening revelation.

This idea is what changed the world. And Apple deserves all the credit for seeing it through from seedling to towering oak. The iPad itself was merely the execution of that vision.

The original iPad (left) with today's iPad Air 2
The original iPad (left) with today's iPad Air 2

Today tablets are everywhere, as well as 2-in-1 hybrids and huge phones that are, in everything but name, small tablets. The iPad (Air 2, that is) is still the best tablet money can buy, but even Apple seems to acknowledge that phablets have moved in on tablets' turf. The latest iPad mini is a mere afterthought, and the company now sells a supersized iPhone of its own.

Tablets are still a big part of our culture, but they've now shifted into cruise control, with owners content to hang onto them for several years without upgrading. Much like the PCs that they (sort of) replaced.

Even if tablets no longer have the buzz factor they once had, today's mobile world wouldn't be possible if we weren't all standing on the shoulders of Apple's "giant iPod touch." Like so many Apple products, the iPad was deceptively simple: only seeming obvious and inevitable after it had caught us all off guard.

Steve Jobs dropping the bomb on January 27, 2010
Steve Jobs dropping the bomb on January 27, 2010

The iPad also may have been the final exclamation point on an era when Apple was easily the most exciting and innovative force in tech. Maybe the upcoming Apple Watch will be the best smartwatch around, and perhaps it will be a big commercial success ... but it can't possibly be the groundbreaking innovation that the iPad was. There are already too many smartwatches that are, apart from a slightly different focus, almost the same thing.

Apple didn't invent the tablet either, but when the iPad launched, there was nothing else like it.

Five years ago Apple projected its bold vision onto the blank canvas of the future. In doing so, it helped to shape the present that we're living in today. Just remember that what today seems obvious and inevitable once required an ocean of imagination, courage and conviction.

... and it also didn't hurt that it was slightly better than a netbook.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane, Apple still hosts the original event video in iTunes.

View gallery - 5 images
8 comments
Christoffer Sperling
No apple did not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tablet_computers#Early_devices
Gadgeteer
@Chistoffer,
Apple did not what? It would help if you typed complete sentences. If you're trying to knock down Apple by saying they weren't the first, the article itself says, "Apple didn't invent the tablet either, but when the iPad launched, there was nothing else like it."
What you seem to intentionally ignore is that none of the devices in that section were successful in the market. That section says most of them didn't even make it into production. Apple made the first successful tablet, blowing away all competition up to that point, whether you like to admit it or not. Scroll down in your linked Wikipedia article and read the section devoted to the iPad. And like it or not, five years later, the iPad still has the dominant market share, despite a huge number of copycats.
christopher
Sigh - it took only 5 years to go from "good idea" to unusable junk. Their insistence on using secret hidden "gestures" to do everyday things, like "search" has made these mysterious things completely unusable to newcomers, who are all now getting affordable androids instead. Remember the 80s, when Apple and their Apple][ went bankrupt, because their expensive "closed ecosystem" got trashed by open rivals? Looks like Apple cannot learn from history!
christopher
Only 1 out of every 10 tablets purchased nowdays is Apple (21 million last year, when more than 200 million were bought). The number Apple sell is *rapidly* declining too (it was 26 million the year before), even though the market for tablets is expanding like crazy (up over 50% per year). Not exactly my idea of a "dominant market share" to Apple anymore!.
ErstO
Not sure what christopher is referring to about "hidden gestures" but I love my iPad, it works, it travels well. Not a replacement to a laptop or desk top PC, but once your fully in to the "closed ecosystem" you realize the benefits, they all work together and almost seamlessly.
Yes I use Windows (now mostly for gaming), and owned Android and know you can get these two platforms to share contacts, emails, notes, photos, music, ext. But nothing compares to the ease of using Apple.
It's not perfect, in fact I have a few grips with Apple, but after using tablets from Apple, HP, and Android at work, and home, I ditched the others and kept the iPad.
P17
Will, I always tell my students never to believe anything that analysts say or write. For proof of it, look how many were predicting poor sales of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, especially after the idiot driven "Bendgate scandal".
So many analysts predicted poor results for Apple, saying they'd lost their way and Android and Windows based companies would erode their market share. Yet, Apple has unheard of market share in Samsung's own back yard, and is now number one in China. So much for analysts. So do you want to know what the rest of what I tell my students about analysts is?.....
Look at the first 4 letters, then think what that is the adjective for, and remember what comes out of it....that sums up self-professed analysts!
Gadgeteer
@Christopher,
Your anti-Apple agenda is clear. It's also ludicrously wrong. Leaving aside the false accusations of "hidden gestures," you obviously haven't been following Apple's financials. Biggest financial quarter yet. They had more revenue than Microsoft, IBM and Proctor & Gamble together. Only 21 million iPads sold last year? Try last quarter. Only another couple of years before they hit $200 billion of cash on hand, at current rates. The most profitable quarter ever reported by any publicly traded company, period.
Oh, yeah. Apple is doomed.
Sienna Lai
I have to go along with Christopher here folks. Read the link he sent though, it IS accurate .. I was actually in this history for part of it as well.
As far as agendas go, too? .. look in the mirror. Apple has not invented or re-invented anything. And no, they were NOT the first 'successful' Tablet either. There were many Tablet PCs produced (and still so), just not for usually for the consumer market. They do have nice pretty devices tho yes, but to me they are not a boyfriend. ;-)
All this is ok though I guess, there are not that many genuine innovators out there anyway.
:-S