How the iPad changed computing in 10 years


On January 27, 2010, Apple’s late founder and CEO Steve Jobs launched the iPad to a packed audience. It quickly became the fastest-selling consumer electronics product at the time, eclipsing even the iPhone, however, the bigger impact it has had on the way we compute today. Back in the day, the apex of personal computing was centred around traditional PCs or notebooks, based on either macOS or Microsoft’s Windows. While today, Windows is still the dominant computing platform for getting work done, it has been the influence of the iPad that echoes across multitudes of gadgets that we use today which is why its launch a decade ago was so transformative. 

How it changed the type of gadgets we started buying

  • The iPad in 2010 was essentially an iPhone with a large screen. But it was the size of the screen that represented a sea of change in the way we consumed content using just a multi-touch glass screen. This was a very different concept at the time as most people were used to either using a laptop or a netbook. For people who wanted to just have a gadget for the sake of watching movies or listening to music, then there were PMPs or what we know as portable media players. Of course, that was the iPod Video and iPod Touch for many but there were other gadgets like the Archos too.
  • Now, here came the iPad which allowed you to not just watch movies comfortably browse the Internet, and play games as well. This was something the iPod Touch till today remains too small for and it anyway soon got supplanted by the iPhone and other Android smartphones. 
  • The iPad also changed the way apps were developed. Firstly, Apple’s disruptive App Store made for a great new distribution medium which got the kickstart through the iPhone, then came, the siloed form of computing propagated by iOS. The final straw was that of the rejection of Adobe’s Flash support on Safari which means today, almost no website uses Flash a decade later, with Adobe also giving up on it. 
  • It also gave rise to a new breed of simpler but graphically rich apps fueled by the spartan nature of Apple’s user interface and the limitations of the iPad and Apple’s new programming paradigms be it Swift or Metal and in later years AR kit. Apple showed the world with the iPad how to make powerful games, beautiful yet uncluttered interfaces for the touchscreen which till date hasn’t been fully replicated by Microsoft or Google for their platforms. 
  • Whatever Microsoft has done with Windows and Google has done with Android especially in the 2011 to 2015 period has been inspired by what Apple managed to pull off with iOS on the iPad. Today, be it Windows 10 or Windows 8, or Microsoft’s Surface hardware, they have basically tried to bridge the gap between a mainstream PC and consumption device which the iPad was initially. Even Google’s efforts with Pixelbook slate tablets, Nexus 7 and Android Honeycomb was defined by Apple’s success. This basically meant, almost every PC had a touch screen and an interface for it, which meant that there were more and more touch-enabled apps. 

It became the de-facto grandfather’s computer 

  • The thing that most people never realised that traditional PCs, especially, the ones based on Windows have always been complicated beasts. In comparison, the iPad was a simpler form of computing. You just pushed a button on the screen to get things done. You didn’t need to worry about viruses or indulge in antivirus software or worry about things like a firewall or look for websites to download apps from safely. All the plumbing was done for you by Apple and the app store. 
  • Sure, there were limitations but these were computers for the lowest common denominator. This is why it became the go-to computer of the elderly and it found perhaps even more success in schools and educational institutes as a computing appliance. It captured so much market share that it literally drove out NetBooks and even made life hard for Chromebooks.
  • With that in the background for writers like me, it too became the perfect computer. All I needed was a large enough screen that was nice and bright, paired with a decent keyboard, and a word processor. From the very get-go, Apple had a fantastic version of “Pages” for the iPad and today you can even use Google docs like I’m using within the Safari browser. 

But there were issues which the iPad Pro overcame

The constant drumhead about the iPad has always been about it being an unfriendly work machine for most professionals. You couldn’t download files from the browser, you couldn’t even easily transfer files as the iPad was tethered to iTunes and the browser itself was essentially an oversized iPhone browser which basically was very underpowered. This problem was compounded by the fact that the ARM-based architecture of Apple’s A-series chip in the initial years generally made quite underpowered for any form of creation. All of that changed with the iPad Pro as Apple started to push MacBook Pro levels of performance. 

  • With the first iPad Pro in 2015, Apple introduced support for the Apple Pencil trying to attract creators who’d swear by WACOM’s hardware. It also had a larger screen, quad speakers and a more powerful processor than the standard iPad.
  • By 2017, the iPad Pro had so much performance thanks to the A10X processor that applications like Affinity photo editor could claim better performance than Adobe Photoshop than an Intel Core i5 based notebook. It also added a high refresh rate display which Apple dubbed the pro-motion display.
  • In 2018, the current generation iPad Pro delivered Xbox One S levels of graphics performance and general computing that matched a 13-inch MacBook Pro. It also added support for USB Type C ports, a new generation of speakers, an all-new bezel-less screen, face ID and a new magnetic Apple Pencil that’s more accurate and has gesture support. 
  • Over the years, Apple has doubled down on AR and the iPad has been the base for it with AR kit tuned cameras being standard since 2017 and also a number of AR applications taking over the App Store.
  • Last but not least was for the OS to mature. While Apple made changes every year for the sake of the iPad most of these have been baby steps, but last year Apple renamed iOS for the iPad to iPad OS which added a file system, widgets, better multitasking, a new gesture interface, mouse support, support for USB drives and accessories via USB and a desktop-class web browser with a download manager and support for web apps like Google Docs.