What this device does is extraordinary,” Steve Jobs intoned to a packed house at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center. The date was Jan. 27, 2010 and Jobs, dressed in his standard attire of faded jeans and a black turtleneck, settled into a Le Corbusier chair with what he called the “third category device”—a 9.7-inch, backlit touch tablet that would create a market between the too-small smartphone and the too-bulky laptop. “Using this thing,” Jobs said, “is remarkable.”
The “thing” was, of course, the iPad.
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in 2010 (above, with background of him and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ), its unique size and portability were supposed to transform our lives. As it turned out, the iPad is transforming retail more than anything (above, center). That’s no small feat, though it falls short of what Jobs (above, in his apartment in 1982) originally envisioned.
Jobs: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images; iPad Retail: Getty Images
Jobs didn’t become a legend for calling things wrong: The iPad was indeed remarkable. But while the tablet became the latest star in the hit parade of Apple products, sold 311,666 units per day by March 2011, and changed the ebook industry by giving publishers an alternative to the imperious Amazon, one thing the iPad did not do is become a revolution that, like smartphones and laptops, would transform how people used computers.
“From a consumer standpoint, the iPad has become the odd man out,” said branding consultant David Deal. “For everyday consumer usage, the iPad didn’t catch on at all.”
The Finish: Apple made its iPads from recyclable aluminum from the start, but the Pro line comes in finishes like this “space gray,” as well as gold and rose gold. The Screen: The smaller iPad Pro screen (9.7 inches) is the same size that the original 2010 iPad had, but the resolution is better: 264 pixels per square inch. The Apps: Apple’s App Store has over 850,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad. Regardless of the app, everything looks better on the Pro’s 12.9-inch “epic” screen.
That’s not to suggest the iPad was a failure (some 340 million of them have been sold to date), but it didn’t change the world the way Jobs, who died in October 2011, had hoped. Why? The harbinger was Samsung’s Galaxy S2, which hit the market in June 2010 with a 4-inch screen. It was only a half inch bigger than that of the iPhone, but it began the race toward large-screen phones that, eventually, Apple itself joined with the iPhone 5. The trouble was, large-format smartphones (and Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus now offers a 5.5-inch whopper) eroded iPad’s differentiation.
The other problem was price. Given the indispensability of phones and laptops, a third-category device would only be viable if it was budget friendly. But iPad’s starting price of $499 ($829 for the 64 GB model) wasn’t—and still isn’t. “The rising cost of Apple’s iPhone and laptops (but especially the iPhone) have made it necessary for most of us to make an either/or choice with the iPad,” Deal said. “The iPad does not have enough going for it to be anyone’s choice unless you have a huge amount of disposable income.”
One part of the world the iPad did change is retail. And, paradoxically enough, this time the smartphone worked in the tablet’s favor. As consumers’ habit of “showrooming” (checking out the goods at brick-and-mortar stores, then whipping out the phone to buy cheaper from a competitor) has risen, retailers have fought back by equipping their associates with iPads to grab back those lost transactions. Some (like Panera Bread) have also shown that the iPad can replace the register line and cut service times.
So maybe the iPad didn’t change the way we live—but changing how we shop? That’s not a bad claim to fame.