Pull out a tablet – any tablet – in front of any of the somewhat ‘tech-savvy’ middle-aged uncles and aunties you know, and instantly the first question is “Oh wow, is that an iPad?”. We can’t really blame them. The last time iPads had any real competition was with the Nexus tablets back in 2013 and that was only because of the huge price differential. Even today iPads dominate the tablet space for a variety of reasons, which we will discuss later in the chapter.
For now here’s a fun fact you may not know: Apple actually developed the iPad long before the iPhone. They wanted a touchscreen computer with an onscreen keyboard that was all self-contained and thus, the first prototype of the iPad was born. But they shelved the project because they thought that a phone would work much better with this idea and many many years later, the iPhone was born in 2007. Then they finally revived the tablet computer project and the first iPad was released in 2010. There has been at least one new iPad launch every year since then, and also the eventual diversification of the device into four different distinct lines viz. the iPad, the iPad Mini, the iPad Air and the iPad Pro, each having different strengths and tradeoffs. Here’s a quick rundown on the timeline of each line and the different models within it.
A brief history of
The iPad – The OG series
- If you’d allow some programming humor, this line is the class from which every other iPad is a mere instance. All regular iPads have a 9.7 inch display and are fairly chunky. They are mostly aimed at home use – for people to casually browse the web, watch videos and FaceTime. This is also our favorite iPad product line so we are going to take extra pains to explain its greatness to you. So young padawan, iPad models five, there were.
- 2010 – The first ever iPad, this one basically is the granddaddy of all the different models out today. It boasted an A4 single-core chip and other hardware feats, but it also had a major software advantage over all the Android tablets out there at the time – iOS actually had more apps than Android and therefore, you could theoretically do more with an iPad than any Android tablet.
The starting price of $499 was apparently just right because Apple sold a million units of the iPad in just half the time they took to sell a million units of the iPhone and went on to sell 15 million units. In fact, more iPads were sold than all of the Android tablet sales combined.
- 2011 – The second generation iPad made the jump from a single core A4 chip to a dual-core A5 chip (garnering an impressive 66% performance increase!), shed some weight and thickness and got front and rear facing cameras to facilitate video calls.
With other features mostly same as its predecessor, the pricing of $639 wasn’t really spare change. It did do well though. Also, the iPad 2 also holds the distinction of the only iOS device to support 6 iOS versions, from iOS 4 to iOS 9.
- 2012 – The third-generation iPad introduced the Retina display. The usual suite of processor upgrades followed too, with much improved graphical processing, FHD video recording and LTE support. It only had about 7 months in the limelight the 4th gen iPad launched.
- 2012 (again) – The new A6X chip was roughly twice as good as the previous A5X chip giving the iPad a little more oomph in productivity related tasks and gaming especially. This one also got the Lightning port, Apple’s new proprietary connector.
- 2017 – After a huge hiatus out of the limelight (and the diversification of the iPad lineup), the OG series was back with a bang, with the cheapest iPad ever released. Basically, an iPad Air 1 chassis crammed with a lot of pretty new components like the fast A9 SOC, the $330 base price made it kind of hard to argue against this one.
This lineup was also one of Apple’s most prolific, with reviewers even calling the Air 2 the ‘best tablet ever made’. The standout features being the much thinner bezels and huge drop in weight, the iPad Air for all practical purposes replaced the regular iPad lineup for a couple of years. It had two models, the Air in 2013 and the Air 2 in 2014 with only minor differences between the two – most notable of which is the inclusion of fingerprint scanning a.k.a. Touch ID as well as being thinner physically.
A classic case of Apple making horribly disastrous predictions. Steve Jobs proclaimed 7 inch tablets were just too small to use. Cut to few years later, Apple found that one of their best selling iPad lines were going to be exactly that – the 7.9 inch iPad Minis. The first iPad mini released in 2012 basically just took the iPad 2 and shrunk it down to mini size. There aren’t many differences between all the Mini models, like a fingerprint sensor here and a chassis design change there, and other changes to deliver performance bumps.
Apple’s attempt at a laptop replacement tablet, the iPad Pros are some of the most powerful tablets in the world, packing some serious processing power under a thin and light shell that can plough through most productivity tasks like number crunching in Excel with ease. The first iPad Pro was released in 2015 in an absolutely ginormous 12.9 inch screen size, with subsequent versions going both ways in terms of size. All iPad Pros share a couple of common traits, like the aforementioned souped-up processing units as well as Apple’s proprietary stylus – the Pencil – and have a special connector on the side called the Smart Connector for easily connecting to special keyboard cases. They also usually feature very good cameras and 4 stereo speakers. The iPad Pros are aimed at people who need an ultra – ultraportable and don’t really mind not having a full fledged OS.
Why do people even buy iPads?
Dropping lots of money on a good tablet is often derided because you can just get a laptop that can vastly outperform the tablet for just a little more or even the same amount of money but at the cost of the convenience of having just a screen to tote around. But even if tablets have their uses; why are iPads specifically so successful? Well for one, there’s only token competition from the Android side. Added to the fact that the iPads, like all Apple products are incredibly well made and have thousands of apps and games optimised to run the on the hardware. If you want a tablet, getting an iPad over anything else is a no brainer. Also, iOS devices work seamlessly with each other and the macOS, so if you are already in the ecosystem, getting an iPad just makes the whole process a lot smoother. Of course, you can achieve that with lots of workarounds with other devices as well, but it just works here.
With tablet sales dropping steadily year after year, where does this leave iPad in the grand scheme of things? For Apple, they want iPads to be used more in education while they are still hoping for iPad Pros to be accepted as full laptop replacements. While the former is a very admirable cause, perhaps Apple needs to ease up on the latter and find a new identity for the Pro lineup. iOS on its own isn’t very conducive to productivity tasks. iOS 11 promises to solve a lot with a capable File Manager and Drag n Drop photos among all things but it’s still a far cry from working on a Mac or a Windows machine. Especially when you consider that a pretty well specced out Windows Ultraportable costs similar to a specced out iPad Pro with a similar footprint. The iPad Pro is just a product with too narrow a use case offering for it to be very successful. However, the $330 iPad 5 is definitely a step in the right direction, giving students a chance to pick one up for helping them with studies as well as many more families getting one just for multimedia consumption. There are tradeoffs, sure, but they are very reasonable ones that don’t really deter from the experience. Even with this ray of hope for the tablet world, only time will tell – does the world even need these anymore?
This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Fast Track on Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.