iPad: 3 years later

3 years ago today, Apple shipped the original iPad Wi-Fi. It had been called unimaginative. It had been called unnecessary. Even after Steve Jobs had taken the stage only a few months earlier and made the case that there was room for a new product category between the smartphone and the laptop, even after Apple's multitouch interface had mainstreamed computing like never before, it was called "just a big iPhone".

And it was. An iPhone gone IMAX. Widescreen experiences gone tall screen. Single column apps gone double column. Small device gone big.

If analysts didn't get it, if pundits didn't get it, if everyone inside Apple didn't get the full extent of it, it didn't matter. We got it. By the millions. Tens of millions.

It was early days still, before they were comfortable enough to have Peter Coyote say technology alone wasn't enough.

But even in its original form, the iPad made computing accessible to people for whom even Macs were confusing and intimidating, for whom mice and keyboards were awkward and off-putting, for whom multiple windows were frustrating and disorienting, for whom everything about a personal computers was still far too impersonal.

It empowered them.

Three years later, with the web in the palm of our hands, with games and videos that fill our field of vision, with apps that let us finger-paint with productivity and pinch and swipe and tap information around the world, with sizes both full and mini, the iPad is a success.

Undeniably, phenomenally, transformative-ly, confounding-ly a success.

And it's only been three years. How far can the iPad go in another three?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPad: 3 years later


Good column. Short and sweet. I love my ipad 2 64gb. Still use it everyday. I don't see myself not having one.

I am also still using the iPad 2 and it never leaves my side. At work, creating and running presentations, watching TV, and playing with the kids. For me it has been a perfect fit. I have tried Android tablets (specifically the Asus transformer) and it was not the same, not as intuitive, unable to integrate it even after a month while the iPad was all in out of the box.

Rene, any new insight yet on when iPad 5 will hit? Are you still hearing an April release even though we are now into the month?

I have an iPad 2 that never leaves my side except for when it crashed on the ground and I had to get the glass replaced. Since then it has not been at 100% so I am trying my hardest to hold out for the 5 but if that will not be until the Fall I doubt I can wait that long.

Part of the negative reaction to iPad was due to Microsoft's crappy slates. The press conflated iPad's tailored iOS interface with Windows' round peg jammed into the tablet square hole. Or was it Windows' square peg jammed into the tablet round hole? Sucked either way, and the press assumed that Apple's pad would sell just as poorly. And now there's Surface. Times change. (Or do they?)

I actually saw one of those Microsoft slates in the wild. Just once. At a restaurant in Monterey, CA, maybe in August 2009. (The Crown & Anchor, great British-style pub.) Looked nice, great leather case, sitting next to its owner unused. I showed the guy the Apple t-shirt under my sweatshirt and mentioned that there were rumors that Apple would be releasing some kind of pad soon. I wonder if he switched.

I agree. People expected and wanted more OS X and less iOS. It took me until the 3rd gen iPad to get one as I didn't think I needed one as I have my phone and laptop, but now my iPad mini goes everywhere with me and my retina iPad did before that. Calling the iPad a success is an understatement. It redefined computing and opened a whole new world of how I use the Internet. Some people call iOS stale (mostly just on the iPhone as there is no competition to the iPad And probably won't be for some years), but it more than gets the job done and I happily trade gimmicky features like widgets and live wallpapers for a smooth always 60fps OS. The iPad really gets out of the way whereas the multiple android tablets I've owned (Xoom, Prime, and Nexus 7) always felt I was fighting with the OS with lag and such. It literally feels like scratching a chalkboard whereas the iPad is so smooth. Yes, the lag is still very much there on android phones, but it is multiplied in their tablets.
Steve Jobs had the monumental task of creating a new form of computing and also selling it as another device we need in our lives and he did more than that with the iPad. Still, Microsoft doesn't get tablets and still they try and sell a desktop os on a multitouch display (hell windows 8 desktop is made for touch). I just don't see it. I don't need a full desktop OS on my tablet and my tablet is probably the device I go to most often outside of the small tasks I do on my iPhone 5.

Actually Microsoft's slates were already old-news, not selling, and not being pushed for quite a while at the time the iPad was announced. Microsoft was busy showing off mock-ups of possible future slates with fake internals but that's about it.

The disappointment was mostly due to the fact that up until it was announced, everyone was saying that it "had to be" OS-X instead of iOS inside, or it was going to be a disappointing failure and "just a big iPod touch." Thus, when it debuted with iOS it was "underwhelming" etc.

Not to sound too fan boyish but Apple ain't gonna throw something out there if it isn't made right and won't work right. Microsoft is stuck between Apple and Google by throwing out stuff that may or not be right functionally or price wise. The Surface is not a bad product but if I wanted to drop that kind of money, it should work more effectively than it does.

As usual, the critics prove wrong when compared to the people actually targeted by the product. I find this is regularly the case with the movies I watch.

The iPad has proved to be a fantastic product. I originally said it was just a big phone without the ability to make phone calls myself. Now I've owned numerous tablets all of which have been a disappointment other than the iPad. I currently own an LTE equipped mini and love it. My poor MacBook Pro doesn't get used very much anymore lol.

I remember that nobody thought the iPad would be affordable, especially from Apple. It was also one of those rare events where some tech from Star Trek was made into reality.

The iPad issued the death bell for PCs and Macs, and the companies that depend on those relics have been struggling since .

Mmm..I believe PCs will always be useful. There are still some things that iPads simply cannot do. Things that require lots of RAM, like photoshop or video editing, but this is changing. Every year RAM gets stronger and stronger, and with wireless/bluetooth mice/keyboards.. tablets might one day take over completely. Who knows.

The imaginary line people draw between the two is getting harder and harder to justify. Tablets are PCs. As they continue to get more powerful and the OSs become more robust (if apple and Google let them) there will be no difference. That's why it bugs me when people talk about this post-pc stuff. Anything you walk around doing your personal computing on is a PC. it doesn't matter if its shaped like a tablet or a cell phone.

I agree. The difference will always be power. What can a laptop do that a tablet can't? A lot at the moment, but as time goes on this will definitely change.

As I read Rene's question about where the iPad will be three years out, all I can see is Star Trek. Especially, now that I have the LTE Mini. I've used other OS tablets and they just don't compare for how I use it. Lets keep everything moving forward!

I have used the first three generation of ipad and loved everyone of them. But for me the ipad mini is almost the perfect device. The size just feels right the weight is like a feather I sit-up pose if there is one thing it is the fact it don't have a retina display, but I can live with that.

I must say that the ipad has been a really good device, i mean, i know people with ipad 1 and still working today, if they still produce something good, they will go far

I had mixed emotions about the iPad at first. The Apple apps looked great but the original device used a dated version of iOS that the iPhones left behind months earlier. Some features were missing and ecosystem needed to catch up to the new reality because their apps were blown up 2x over the iPhone version which looked out of place. However, I saw potential just not a device I had to have from day one. That is no longer true, I have one and it is my favorite mobile device by far.

True that, I love my iPad but when it debuted it was really bad (hardware & software). No surprise that people were sceptical, I think that the fact it succeeded is only thanks to the sheer will of fans and developers. If not for the hype that it got and customers willingness to overlook the glaring shortcomings nothing would save this from being a flop, luckily the stars alligned this time and users really wanted this kind of a more portable device. I remember that when I saw the functionality (or lack of it) and the pricing I expected to see a better upgraded model five months later, but then something started to happen - the attention resulted in good apps and I understood I can't wait that long for Apple to fix the tablet so I bought one. Three years later I'm still waiting for them to fix it but at least it's easier when you have one in your hand and there's light in the tunnel (if not Apple then at least others are a lot closer to manufacturing tablets that should have been made in 2010).

My mother has had the original iPad since it's release three years ago today and it is still kicking! Everyone else in the household has The New iPad, but mom doesn't care. She had hers first. The thing is held up well, too! She's a second grade teacher and it has gone to work with her every day since she got it. It has seen its fair share of bumps and drops along the way. When Apple makes a product, they make it well. Here's to 3 more years!!!

I love my iPad mini. It is the perfect size. I think the full sized iPad is too big (at least for me). If I need something that big, I'll use my Macbook Pro. The mini is the perfect size and fits perfectly in functionality right between my iPhone 5 and the Macbook Pro. It is great for travel, meetings, taking notes and general browsing. I didn't think I would like it as much as I do.

It's always amazed me when someone or in this case a company believes in something and puts there belief behind it. No one understood what it was or how we would use it but now three years later we don't know how we lived without it.

It's still my favorite device from Apple and what brought me into their ecosystem (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, Apple TV, & iPod shuffle) :)

A lot of the credit towards the iPad's success should go to the app developers. As much as I like my iPad, it really wouldn't be much without the thousands of apps that are made specifically for it in the App Store. Besides that, you have to give props to Apple for making computers accessible to a greater audience thanks to the iPad. It's been a great three years.

I purchased the original 64GB iPad with 3G on day one. I still have the unlimited data plan. Since then I have used my iPads an average of 4-5 hours per day.

I didn't jump on the iPad when it first came out. I thought I wanted an OS-X tablet, and I thought the iPad seemed like "just a big iPod Touch" (note that I was in fact a very happy owner of an iPod Touch, just couldn't see why I'd want a giant one). I skipped the 1st-gen iPad, and got a 2nd-gen one. I think I'm glad I skipped that first one -- the lack of camera, and there wasn't quite the quantity of high-quality iPad-specific apps. Even on the iPad2, several of the apps I used were iPhone apps running in zoomed mode, which was ugly.

But now, I've got the latest iPad, and a mini. I love the retina display on the big one, and the portability of the mini (I'd hate to choose just one).

My wife also had no interest in the iPad when I first got one, but she came around pretty quickly after trying it out for a while. My 3.5-year-old loves it too, of course, and we've got plenty of educational apps for him (we try not to let him use non-interactively to just watch videos too much). FaceTime is extremely handy -- we almost never use the phone any more; my kids' grandparents keep in touch via FaceTime. Using the mini for that is especially handy because of its portability.

I must say, I have had trouble with iPad purchasing. When the first gen was announced, I honestly wondered who would buy these and what would they do with them? As time went on, so did Apple's profit margins. By the iPad retina, I was ready to plunge. Not longer after the purchase though I begun wondering how this device could actually fit into my life. Not being able to find an appropriate fit for my iPad, I returned it.

Taking a humble look at what my workflow consists of, with all the advances with cross device syncing, I am doing myself a disservice in not exploiting this feature extensively, I can now honestly say once apple announced a redesigned iPad 5, I will be first in line. Its amazing how time has a way of changing things.

Heres to a great 3 years iPad, I cant imagine what another 3 will bring.....

I also dismissed the iPad when it was released. Not that i expected it to be a computer replacement, just didn't feel the need to have a third computing device. If i already have an iPhone in my pocket, why would i need second, bigger, iPhone? When would it be really necessary?
I decided i would wait for the retina iPad.
Only when i bought the iPad 3 it stroke me. It really is a computer replacement. And the experience is much better.

I finally understood the trucks analogy. 95% of the time i use less than 5% of the processing power i have in my laptop.

I still love my mbpr, but i use it a little bit less everyday.

I have tries other platforms and the Apple products are by far the best. I have my iPhone, Mac and now just need an iPad. My wife, mother, father and sister all have the iPhone and we're never looking back. Excellence of execution and form.

Even though I couldn't see a use for it initially I still said to my friends (doubters) that It would be big. I started from the iPad 2

It's incredible when the iPad launched, people mocked it for the name, and journalists the world over asked "But... why? I've already got an iPhone / iTouch" and yet here we are today, years beyond Apple handing us this beautifully designed blank slate, and people are doing all kinds of crazy things with it that nobody ever could've possibly envisaged just a few years ago... It was a daring move by Apple, but the way that company can spark the imaginations of people the world over is driving innovation from every competitor. And when innovation like that comes, consumers can only ever stand to win.