History of iPad (original): Magical and revolutionary

Counting down to the 2014 iPads, we look back at the original in 2010, the one that put the post in post-PC

On January 27, 2010, Steve Jobs took the stage at an Apple special event to give what was one of the most important keynotes of his life and, once again, in the history of consumer electronics. The Mac had been introduced decades before, the iPhone only a few years, yet on that stage, at that event, Jobs would make the case that there was room for a new category of device in between the two. A new category of device that, in order to exist, had to be not only better at certain key tasks, but significantly better at them.. It had to be the iPad.

During the keynote, Jobs called Apple a "mobile devices" company, trumpeting not only the iPod and iPhone, but MacBooks as well. He claimed that, by revenue, Apple was the largest mobile device company in the world, bigger than Nokia, Samsung, and Sony. Lectured for years by know-nothing analysts who insisted Apple simply had to make a netbook — because the MacBook Air introduced two years earlier didn't count — Jobs took the opportunity to say netbooks were simply cheap laptops, with slow processors, low-quality displays, and "clunky" old PC-software, that weren't better at anything. Then Jobs introduced Apple's larger, 9.7-inch multitouch tablet. Apple:

iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price. iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.

Advanced technology at an unbelievable price

The iPad project began at Apple even before the iPhone, but at some point the phone became a more important goal for 2007. The iPad was put on the shelf, and the iPhone shipped, changing the phone industry forever. By 2010, however, Apple was ready to launch their new tablet, something Steve Jobs reportedly said was the most important product of his life — a life filled with transformative products.

The original iPad, code named K48 and model number iPad1,1, had a 9.7-inch screen at 1024x768 and 132ppi, both for the Wi-Fi only model, and the Wi-Fi + 3G HSPA versions. It also packed in 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, aGPS, and... absolutely no camera.

Importantly, the iPad included Apple's first branded processor, the Apple A4. It combined a 800MHz ARM Cortex A8 and a PowerVR SGX535 graphics processor, along with a rather anemic 256MB of RAM. The original iPad came with 16, 32, and 64GB storage options, and a 25 watt hour that let it run for an impressive 10 hours. Like all iOS — and iPod — devices of its time, the original iPad could connect to a Mac or Windows PC, and charge, via the traditional 30-pin Dock connector. And it came in whatever color you wanted, as long as you wanted black.

Like the iPhones of its generation, the original iPad also included ambient light sensor to adjust brightness, an accelerometer to determine orientation, and manometer (digital compass) to determine direction and rotation around gravity. Also like the iPhones of its generation, the original iPhone did not include support for CDMA EVDO rev A data network compatibly. That meant it couldn't work on Verizon and Sprint. It also didn't include support for AWS bands, meaning that, while it could work on T-Mobile's 2G EDGE network, it couldn't work on T-Mobile's 3G network. Not that it mattered. Once more, like the iPhone, Apple teamed up with AT&T. This time they offered 256MB of data for $14.99 a month and $29.99 for unlimited, and it could be enabled on-device, and off-contract.

Apple had apparently considered merely blowing up the iPhone interface for the iPad but ultimately decided that wasn't good enough. Instead, they took the iPhone interface and not only enlarged it, but expanded it to show two columns (sidebar or popover list, and main detail view) at once, which allowed for a different class of apps.

Still dubbed iPhone OS back then, and specifically iPhone OS 3.2, it had most of the same built-in apps — not including the weather, stocks, calculator, and compass — but on a grander scale. Debuting alongside the original iPad was a new Apple app, iBooks, and a new store, the iBookstore.

Again, Apple hadn't been sure about eBooks a year earlier, but when the decision was made, the web team took their knowledge of HTML, sprinted, and by January it was a marquee feature.

To enable access to the existing library of App Store apps, Apple also gave the iPad the ability to run iPhone apps in letter- and pillar boxed form, either at actual size or in a 2x mode that better filled the screen. Apple also gave developers a couple of months of lead time to update their apps for universal compatibility, or to create iPad-specific apps. And when the iPad launched, an iPad App Store launched along with it, and with thousands of optimized apps ready to download.

Rumors of the iPad's starting price had ranged up to $1000, which didn't seem impossible at the time. When Apple announced it, however, it started at $499. It was Steve Jobs' vision combined with Tim Cook's logistical genius that made that price possible. It was technology made even more mainstream, even more accessible, not only because of interface but because of price.

The big iPhone

It wasn't clear from the start that even Apple knew exactly what the iPad was. They knew it had potential, but its future was a haze of possibility, not yet a sharply focused certainty.

It rolled out in stages. The Wi-Fi version shipped on April 3, 2010 in the U.S. The Wi-Fi + 3G version followed on April 30, and the international rollout on May 28. While some dismissed the iPad as "unimaginative" and as "just a big iPhone", it turned out consistency and being an iPhone gone IMAX was exactly the point. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal said it was close to being a laptop killer. AllThingsD:

For the past week or so, I have been testing a sleek, light, silver-and-black tablet computer called an iPad. After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.

Joshua Topolsky, former Editor-in-Chief of Engadget:

The name iPad is a killing word -- more than a product -- it's a statement, an idea, and potentially a prime mover in the world of consumer electronics. [...] So the verdict? The buyer of an iPad is one of two people, the first is someone who sees not just the present, but the potential of a product like the iPad... and believes in and is excited about that potential. This is also a person who can afford what amounts to a luxury item. The second is an individual who simply doesn't need to get that much work done, and would prefer their computing experience to be easier, faster, and simpler. Does that sound like anyone you know?

Yours truly, writing alongside Dieter Bohn, for iMore:

The iPad is neither absolute failure nor second-coming. It is nothing more or less than Apple's attempt to once again make the computer more personal. What began with the original Apple and Mac and became the Apple II and iMac, takes another step forward into the future with the introduction of the iPad. That the iPad can deservedly be mentioned alongside those previous paradigm shifts, that it does for multitouch computer appliances what was done before for command-lines and graphical user interfaces -- and smartphones with the iPhone -- is a tremendous accomplishment. But it's the first generation of this shift, the Apple or Mac, not the Apple II or iMac, and that means it's certainly not for everyone, not yet. But it holds the potential to be just that -- the computing device of the future, and for most people.

Apple sold over 300,000 iPads the first weekend. Apple:

It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world—it's going to be a game changer. iPad users, on average, downloaded more than three apps and close to one book within hours of unpacking their new iPad.

By May 3, after the introduction of the Wi-Fi + 3G model, they'd sold 1 million. Apple:

One million iPads in 28 days—that's less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with iPhone. Demand continues to exceed supply and we're working hard to get this magical product into the hands of even more customers.

Apple had once again done the impossible. They'd made the world's first commercially successful tablet computer.

Unity... eventually

Shortly after the original iPad was shown off with, and shipped with, iPhone OS 3.2, Apple previewed iPhone OS 4. It would be renamed iOS 4 at WWDC 2010, and ship with the iPhone 4 shortly thereafter. However, it would only be coming to the iPad later, in the fall of 2010.

Ultimately, it would be iOS 4.2, launched in November of 2010, that would finally unify Apple's iPhone and iPad product lines.

And from that point on, they'd stay unified.

Competitive flummoxing

The iPad, even more than the iPhone, caught competitors flat-footed. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer raced onto the CES stage in early January of 2010 to show off the HP Slate and try to pre-empt the iPad buzz. It was so bad it barely shipped, though did include a handy pop-out piece of plastic with its Windows license emblazoned atop it.

Samsung, for their part, forced Android (Gingerbread) onto a tablet against even the wishes and advice of Google, introducing the original Galaxy Tab running stretched out smartphone software.

BlackBerry tried to spin their big screen phone companion into a tablet proper, derailing their more pressing phone needs, and ending up with the amateur-hour-is-over PlayBook that couldn't even handle their signature email system.

Palm raced to get a TouchPad out, scaling the elegant webOS operating system, but targeting the original iPad specs months after Apple had already launched the iPad 2.

It was, perhaps, one of the greatest routings in the history of consumer electronics, and it was by the first iPad Apple would ever produce, a product they themselves were already planning to leapfrog.

One year later

By April of 2011, when Apple discontinued the original iPad, total sales had reached over 15 million units. Not only was that more than the original iPhone sold in it's first year, but it was more than every other tablet combined had ever sold combined. There we 65,000 iPad-optimized apps in the App Store as well, and as we know by now, it was only the beginning...

Note: Originally published October 2013. Updated October 2014.