It’s almost exactly ten years since the Apple iPad debuted in a world that had hitherto existed quite happily without tablet devices.
In 2010, digital communications took two main forms – through desktop and laptop computers, or across the burgeoning (albeit limited) smartphone sector.
This was the age of the BlackBerry and Windows 7, which were both fine pieces of technology despite being limited in different ways.
Windows was far from its modern cloud-supported incarnation, while BlackBerries used monochrome screens and tiny cocktail-stick QWERTY keyboard buttons.
The world had seen portable digital devices long before the iPad, from 1989’s GRiDPad to IBM’s 1992 ThinkPad and the late-90s PalmPilot PDA range.
Microsoft launched a short-lived Tablet PC in 2002, while Apple had been dabbling with smaller laptop variants since 1993’s stylus-controlled Newton MessagePad.
An ingenious solution to a problem that didn’t exist
Many people viewed tablets as gimmicky, and when it was unveiled in January 2010, Apple’s iPad was seen in some quarters as a modern-day Newton.
The iPad was neither as powerful as a laptop nor as portable as a smartphone, falling between these two stools with a seemingly undefined role.
It had limited specifications and mediocre sound quality, costing around £600 despite having internal storage that started at just 16GB.
On paper, there was no need for the iPad, and no reason for it to succeed.
Yet it became massively popular almost overnight.
Its 9.7-inch LCD screen looked gorgeous, with 132ppi pixel density and scratch-resistant glass.
Weighing just 680g, this was a device you could comfortably hold for long periods while reading an ebook or watching a movie.
And while some observers claimed tablets would be a technological flash in the pan, Apple announced last month it has sold over 500 million devices during the last decade.
Extraordinarily, most of today’s Apple iPad purchasers are first-time buyers, which suggests its modern-day appeal extends far beyond existing customers.
Attack of the clones
Having initially maintained a dignified silence when the iPad launched, Apple’s smartphone and computing rivals quickly sprang into action once they saw how successful it was becoming.
Today, you can buy tablets and phablets (a smaller tablet, defined by the 2011 launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note series) of varying sizes and specifications from numerous manufacturers.
You can have Android or iOS operating systems. Amazon Kindles run a distinct version of Android known as Fire OS, and Microsoft Surface devices run on Windows.
Any tablet will have a touchscreen and WiFi, usually supporting Bluetooth peripherals like wireless keyboards. Unlike smartphones, tablets rarely connect to mobile networks.
Eight-inch screens have become the median, with anything less considered small-screen and 8.9-inch screens regarded as large.
With tablets likely to be under millions of Christmas trees this year, Apple’s iPad almost singlehandedly created this entire industry.
For many people, today’s four-model range remains the original – and the best.