Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the original iPad’s release. Tablets were a thing long before Steve Jobs introduced one on stage during the iPad’s announcement in January 2010, but they didn’t look anything like what Apple had planned. Jobs sold us the vision of a bridge device that takes the best parts of a smartphone and a computer, and rolls them into one.
Android tablets still exist, but attract buyers almost entirely with their budget pricing. Samsung, the only major backer of premium Android tablets, sells barely more than a third as many tablets as Apple. The indomitable force known as the iPad rules the tablet market with an iron fist.
Consistency with ample variety
The iPad’s secret weapon is consistency — both in build quality, and performance. Through the years, Apple expanded its lineup to cover various price points and various users. What’s remarkable, though, is that those two fundamental qualities are reflected in all iPads.
The iconic design hasn’t changed much in the decade it has been around. A metal chassis combined with a gorgeous display remains the iPad’s key trait. With each iteration, it becomes thinner and lighter (made more evident by the iPad Mini line), but the same premium design has remained intact throughout. Unlike the iPhone, which had questionable iterations like the iPhone SE, the iPad has always delivered on looks.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Microsoft’s Surface are no slouch. Yet other companies don’t put as much thought or effort — resulting in meager offerings that don’t leave any lasting impression. Just look at the low-cost Android slates from Asus, Acer, and Lenovo. Comparatively speaking, even the current entry-level iPad has a far more polished design, despite its age.
Complementing the design is the fact all iPads are quick, and remain quicker. There’s technically a large gap in performance between the entry-level iPad and the current iPad Pro, but even models several generations out of date still feel fast. The fluid performance of iOS, combined with Apple’s custom-designed silicon, delivers a level of polish and performance that no competitor can match.
A unified experience
The iPad and Android tablets started in a similar place, tailored mainly to bridge smartphones and computers. More features were introduced over time, giving them both optimized experiences that weren’t simply mobile experiences blown up to a larger scale to fit a tablet’s display.
However, Apple’s unified approach in delivering experiences to its tablets has helped the iPad to dominate the market. Whether it was a predecessor or successor, the iPad’s experience didn’t look or feel dramatically different.
The same cannot be said about Android tablets. Every maker was customizing the experience to their liking. Someone using one particular Android tablet was likely to find a totally different one on another. Android’s fragmented approach doomed it from reaching broader adoption.
Now, Apple is trying to retain this unified approach while also expanding the iPad’s capabilities to compete head-to-head with laptops. Whether that will work remains to be seen, but the early results are promising. iPadOS is intuitive — at least compared to a Windows or MacOS device. And while the iPad Pro leads the charge, a number of iPadOS features apply to the iPad Air, iPad, and iPad Mini.
Strong software & accessories support
The final reason for the iPad’s success is the support it receives for its software and accessories. With the former, Apple is able to deliver the latest iPadOS software to more legacy devices, allowing significantly older models to experience the software. iPadOS 13, the latest release, is compatible with 2014’s iPad Air 2.
Knowing an iPad will continue to thrive over a period of time thanks to new software releases makes the investment more worthwhile. You can’t expect the same with other tablets.
Beyond the experiences, there’s diverse support from accessory makers. You’re guaranteed an array of options for just about any iPad, which is something you can’t expect to find with other tablets. Chances are you’ll find only a handful of stuff for less popular tablets, like those from Acer or Asus.
On the other hand, Apple sometimes recycles the designs of its iPads, so not only will you have more choice, but sometimes the accessories are cheaper as well.
Positive sales numbers defy Android’s decline
While Apple continues to be the leader in global tablet sales, shipments for Android tablets have sputtered through the years since the first one came to market shortly after the iPad’s release. Try as they might, the collective group of Android tablet makers has never been able to surpass Apple when it comes to sales. Out of the bunch, it’s Samsung that most recently came in second behind Apple during Q4 2019.
Throughout the 2010s, every major company was in the market of selling Android tablets — with shipments peaking at 51.8 million in Q4 2014. Since then, the trend has sloped downward for Android tablets. Established makers such as Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo saw negative year-over-year growth in recent reports. And while shipments of Windows tablets haven’t drastically fluctuated over the years, the stagnant figures indicate won’t come close to reaching the iPad’s level anytime soon.
The decade ahead
There will always be new challenges for the iPad. There’s no arguing the latest iPad Pro (2020) encroaches on computing territory with the arrival of an adjustable keyboard accessory later this spring, but it may potentially cannibalize sales of Apple’s other esteemed properties — namely the also just-released MacBook Air.
The iPad’s greatest years may be yet to come.
This is a concern not because of Mac sales, which aren’t a major portion of Apple’s income, but because of the design challenges ahead. Apple clearly aspires to make the iPad a straight-up replacement for a home PC. For some few users, it’s already there. Not everyone is as receptive. Many people are used to how PCs (and Macs) work, and they won’t be easily convinced to switch.
Still, given that the iPad has yet to be bested in the last decade, I’m willing to bet on it. The iPad’s greatest years may be yet to come.