Three years ago this week, Apple invented a new market for tablet computing devices when it unleashed its first iPad on US consumers. Since then, this market has turned into a major business for Apple and, more recently, other companies as well, and I thought this might be a good time to reflect on how the firm has, once again, changed everything.
Apple fan boys with fragile egos and long memories like to taunt me with some of my early quotes about the iPad—I referred to it as an “iDud” when it was announced in January 2010, for example—without respecting the fact that my writings about the devices got a lot more positive when I started using them. I guess it still confuses people on that partisan side of the world to realize that more experience with something can actually alter your opinion.
But these critics also lack the perspective of my 20 years writing about technology. No offense to the people who scramble to defend Apple at every turn, but we here in the Microsoft world went down the tablet road a long, long time before Apple did. And while I think we can all agree that Apple got some things right with iPad that Microsoft missed with the Tablet PC in 2002, it’s also fair to say that the Tablet PC—with its handwriting recognition and ability to treat handwritten text as native data—still outshines today’s Apple mobile devices in many ways. Point being that the inability to understand tech trends cuts both ways, guys.
The original iPad was “a work in progress,” a I noted, “beautiful from a high level but lacking” in key areas like the 4:3 screen aspect (never fixed) or the lack of cameras (fixed with iPad 2). It was far too expensive, I felt, though it took a lot of low-cost alternatives from competitors for that to become obvious to many. “The iPad is good but not excellent,” I wrote of the original device. “It's most certainly the nicest tablet device I've ever used. And it's only going to get better over time.”
It got far more positive from there. “Apple's iPad 2,” I wrote, “is best-in-class for this new emerging market category of slate computing devices, so if you haven't yet pulled the trigger, and want (and can afford) such a thing, this is absolutely the best choice. It's not even close.” It was thinner, lighter, and faster, as Apple claimed (and as most Apple hardware updates were at the time), and iOS was evolving into something truly useful. The iPad 2 debuted with the smart covers, expensive but necessary, innovative, and fun.
Apple’s third iPad was the best yet—“an amazing, revolutionary new screen that puts it leagues above the competition,” I wrote in a review that those Apple guys will never quote. “Already the best of the tablets, the new iPad extends Apple's lead and puts Android and Windows 8 on notice: The bar has been raised yet again.” And that “retina” display: “Amazing,” I wrote. “The iPad, today, is the only truly personal ‘personal computer,’ if you will. And it’s the PCs and Macs most of us still use to get work done that should change names, perhaps to "impersonal computers." There's nothing personal about a PC, folks. But there's plenty to love about the new iPad.”
Apple later released a 4th-generation iPad and, more important, the iPad mini, in late 2012. Both are excellent, and I described the latter as “the ideal mini tablet … a gorgeous, gorgeous device. Microsoft, Amazon, [and] Google … are going to have to step it up.”
From here, my perspective on the iPad moves as it must to the Windows side of the fence. In 2012, of course, Microsoft launched Windows 8, its belated attempt to capture its piece of the multi-touch pie. As I infamously wrote about that release, “Windows 8 is Apple’s fault.” And it is: If Apple hadn’t seen such huge success with iPhone, it never would have made the iPad, and that device’s success in turn triggered a rethinking of Microsoft’s core product line. Think about how fundamentally Windows has changed in this current release. That is all because of the iPad.
So yes, I think it makes sense to reflect on Apple’s game-changing release and the ways in which the company has, once again, impacted all of us, whether we use Apple’s products or not. It’s not clear whether a Steve Jobs-less Apple can have this same influence going forward, and I will continue to watch coming iPad and other Apple releases with the same critical eye. But don’t believe the Apple fan boys: My opinion of the iPad has been largely respectful and complimentary over the course of its short life. Sometimes first impressions really are wrong.
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