The History and Evolution of the iPad

iPad has changed the way we view content and use computing devices

Steve Jobs displaying iPad
Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Important dates in the history of the iPad:

  • January 27, 2010: The iPad is announced.
  • March 12, 2010: Apple begins taking pre-orders for iPad.
  • April 3, 2010: The official release of the iPad; Apple begins shipping the Wi-Fi only model and 300,000 units sell in the first day.
  • April 30, 2010: The iPad 3G model ships; iPad already exceeds one million in sales in just 28 days (it took the iPhone 74 days to reach one million units sold). 
  • End of 2010: 15 million iPads sold.
  • March 11, 2011: iPad 2 released; dual-facing cameras introduced.
  • October 5, 2011: Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, dies of respiratory arrest after battling pancreatic cancer.
  • March 16, 2012: The New iPad (3rd generation) released; Retina Display introduced.
  • November 4, 2012: iPad Mini released, along with iPad 4.
  • October 22, 2013: iPad Air (fifth generation of iPad) and the iPad Mini 2 (second generation of iPad Mini) are announced.
  • November 1, 2013: iPad Air goes on sale.
  • November 12, 2013: iPad Mini 2 goes on sale.
  • October 22, 2014: iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 go on sale; Touch ID and gold color option introduced.
  • November 11, 2015: iPad Pro with 12.9-inch screen goes on sale.
  • March 31, 2016: iPad Pro with 9.7-inch screen goes on sale.

Pre-iPad History

Apple began playing around with the idea of a tablet as far back as 1979 when they released the Apple Graphics Tablet as an accessory to the Apple II. This original tablet was designed as an aid for creating graphics, allowing the artist to draw on a canvas.

The Newton Message Pad

Apple's involvement picked up steam in 1993 with the release of the Newton Message Pad. This was during the non-Steve Jobs era of Apple—in 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple.

In 1996, Apple bought Steve Jobs's startup NeXT, bringing Jobs back to the Apple organization in an informal capacity. Job resumed leadership of operations at Apple in 1997 when CEO Gil Amelio was let go by the Apple Board of directors. Jobs replaced Amelio as interim CEO and the Newton line was ultimately discontinued in 1998.

The iPod Debuts

The first line of iPods was released on November 10, 2001, and would quickly transform how we buy, store and listen to music. The iTunes music store opened on April 28, 2003, allowing iPod owners to buy music online and download it to their device. The iPod quickly became the most popular music player and helped drag the music industry into the digital age.

The iPhone Is Announced

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. The iPhone wasn't just a combination of the iPod and the smartphone; in true Apple fashion, it was leaps and bounds above the smartphones of the day.

The iPhone operating system, later known as iOS, was developed to run all of Apple's mobile devices, from the iPhone to the iPad to the iPod Touch.

The App Store Opens

The last piece of the pre-iPad puzzle opened on July 11, 2008: The App Store.

The iPhone 3G introduced the world to the idea of buying smartphone apps from a centralized digital store. The release of a free software development kit (SDK) combined with a powerful operating system and great graphics caused an explosion of apps, giving Apple a huge lead the app marketplace.

With the release of the iPod Touch and the second-generation iPhone, rumors began to surge about an Apple tablet based on the iOS operating system. By the time Apple released the iPhone 3GS, these rumors had really picked up steam. 

The iPad Is Released

Since Steve Jobs second stint with the company, Apple became synonymous with quality and simple but intuitive design. With their Mac line of PCs and laptops, Apple also became synonymous with high price tags. The iPad's launch price of $499 was lower than many expected.

It was Apple's highly optimized supply chain and distribution network that allowed the iPad to ship with such a low price tag and still turn a profit for Apple. The low price also put pressure on other manufacturers to match it, a task difficult to accomplish while also attempting to rival the iPad's hardware and features.

Tim Cook served as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations during this period and was the architect behind Apple's supply chain. 

Netflix Support of iPad

Netflix announced an app aimed at streaming content from their Watch Instantly queue the day before the iPad's release. The Netflix app didn't arrive on the iPhone until later that year, and it wasn't available on the Android platform until over a year after the iPad was released.

Netflix's support of the iPad was a demonstration that the industry wouldn't just port apps to the iPad, but would design them specifically for the larger device, another asset that has helped the iPad remain on top.

iOS Evolves, Introduces Multitasking

One November 22, 2010, Apple released iOS 4.2.1, which added key features to the iPad that had been introduced on the iPhone earlier that summer. Among these features was limited multitasking, which allowed music to be played in the background while using another app among other tasks, and the ability to create folders.

The iPad sold 15 million units in 2010, and the App Store had 350,000 apps available, 65,000 of which were designed specifically for the iPad.

The iPad 2 Is Released and Introduces Dual-Facing Cameras

The iPad 2 was announced on March 2, 2011 and released on March 11th. While the original iPad was only available at Apple stores and through when it was released, the iPad 2 launched not only in Apple Stores, but also in retail stores, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart. 

The iPad 2 added dual-facing cameras, which brought the ability to video conference with friends via the FaceTime app. The cameras also introduced the iPad to augmented reality, which uses the camera to display the real world with digital information written over it. A great example of this is Star Chart, which maps the constellations as you move the iPad's camera across the sky.

The dual-facing cameras weren't the only additions to the iPad 2. Apple turbocharged the CPU, adding a 1 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and doubling the amount of random access memory (RAM) from 256MB to 512MB. This change in RAM allowed for larger applications, and it is the primary reason why the later versions of iOS no longer supported the original iPad.

Other New Features and Tech for iPad 2

The iPad 2 also added the gyroscope, the Digital AV Adapter that allows the iPad to be connected to HDMI devices, AirPlay compatibility that allowed the iPad to connect to a TV wirelessly through Apple TV, and the Smart Cover, which wakes up the iPad upon removal.

A "Post-PC World" and the Passing of Steve Jobs

A theme of the iPad 2 announcement was the "Post-PC" world, with Steve Jobs referring to the iPad as a "Post-PC" device. It was also the last iPad announcement for Jobs, who passed away on October 5th, 2011.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads. By way of comparison, Hewlett-Packard, who topped all other manufacturers during that period, sold 15.1 PCs. By January 2012, the iPad's all time sales passed 50 million.

The "New" iPad (3rd Generation)

Continuing the theme of the "Post-PC" world, Tim Cook kicked off the announcement of the iPad 3 on March 7, 2012, by talking about Apple's role in the Post-PC revolution. This third generation iPad was officially released on March 16th, 2012.

The New iPad upgraded the back-facing camera to a 5 megapixel "iSight" camera, adding backside illumination, a 5-element lens, and hybrid IR filter. The camera could shoot 1080p video with built-in video stabilization. To go along with the upgraded camera, Apple released iPhoto, their popular photo editing software, for the iPad.

The New iPad also brought a nice boost in connection speed by adding 4G network compatibility. 

Retina Display Comes to iPad

The iPad 3 brought the Retina Display to the iPad. The 2048 x 1536 resolution gave the iPad the highest resolution of any mobile device at that time. To power the increased resolution, the iPad 3 used a modified version of the iPad 2's A5 processor, dubbed the A5X, that contained a quad-core graphics processor.

Siri Misses the iPad 3 Boat

One key feature missing from the iPad 3 at release was Siri, which debuted with the iPhone 4S the previous fall. Apple held Siri back to give it an iOS makeover, finally releasing it for the iPad with the iOS 6.0 update. However, the iPad 3 did get a key piece of Siri at release: voice dictation. The voice dictation feature was available through the on-screen keyboard and could be used in most apps that used the standard keyboard.

iOS 6 Brings New Features...and Flubs 

The iOS 6 update constituted one of the biggest changes to the operating system since iOS 2 added the App Store. Apple ended its partnership with Google, replacing Google Maps with its own Maps app. While the 3D Maps app was beautiful, the data behind it was a step down from Google Maps, leading to wrong information and worse, incorrect directions.

iOS 6 also redesigned the App Store, which proved to be another unpopular move.

The iOS 6 update also added an improved Siri to the iPad. Among many changes, the new Siri was able to get sports scores and reserve tables at restaurants, integrating with Yelp information about those restaurants. Siri could even update Twitter or Facebook and launch apps.

iPad 4 and iPad Mini Announced Simultaneously

On October 23rd, 2012, Apple held a product announcement most predicted would feature the unveiling of the long-rumored iPad Mini. But Apple threw a little bit of a curve ball by also announcing an upgraded iPad, dubbed the "iPad 4" in the media.

The iPad 4 and iPad Mini both released Wi-Fi-only units on November 4th, 2012, with 4G versions following two weeks later on November 16th. The iPad 4 and iPad Mini combined for 3 million in sales on release day weekend and boosted Apple's iPad sales to 22.9 million for the quarter.

The iPad 4 had an upgraded processor, the new A6X chip, which provided twice the speed as the A5X chip in the previous iPad. It also featured an HD camera, and introduced the new Lightning connector to the iPad, replacing the old 30-pin connector standard in previous Apple iPads, iPhones and iPods.

The iPad Mini

The iPad Mini launched with a 7.9-inch display, which is slightly larger than other 7-inch tablets. It also had the same 1024x768 resolution as the iPad 2, giving the iPad Mini some mixed reviews in a media that was hoping for the Retina Display to make its way to the iPad Mini.

The iPad Mini kept the same dual-facing cameras, including the 5 MP iSight back-facing camera, and supported 4G networks for data connectivity. But the style of the iPad Mini was a departure from the larger iPads, with a smaller bevel and a flatter, thinner design.

iOS 7.0

Apple announced iOS 7.0 at their annual Worldwide Developer's Conference on June 3, 2013. The iOS 7.0 update features the biggest visual changes to the operating system since its release, shifting to a flatter and more transparent style for the interface.

The update included iTunes Radio, a new streaming service from Apple; AirDrop, which will allow owners to share files wirelessly; and more options for apps to share data.

iPad Air and iPad Mini 2

On October 23, 2013, Apple announced both the iPad Air and the iPad Mini 2. The iPad Air was the fifth generation of iPads, while the iPad Mini 2 represented the second generation of Minis. Both featured similar hardware, including the new 64-bit Apple A7 chip.

The iPad Mini 2 featured the Retina Display that matched the full sized iPad's 2048×1536 Retina Display resolution.

The iPad Air was released on November 1st and the iPad Mini 2 on November 12th of 2013.

iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3

October of 2014 saw the announcement of the next iterations in the iPad lines with the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. Both featured the new Touch ID fingerprint authentication.

A new gold color option became available on the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3.

The iPad Mini 3 was very similar to its predecessor, save for the addition of Touch ID, and utilized the A7 chip.

The iPad Air 2 got a RAM upgrade to 2GB, the first Apple device to go above 1GB of RAM, and an upgrade to the Apple A8X triple core CPU. 

iPad Pro

On November 11, 2015, Apple released a third line of iPad products with the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro featured a greater screen size—12.9 inches— with a 2732x2048 resolution Retina Display, the new A9X chip and 4GB of RAM.

Shortly after the 12.9-inch iPad Pro was released, a smaller 9.7-inch screen iPad Pro was released on March 31, 2016. The smaller iPad Pro featured the same A9X chip, but its smaller screen had a 2048x1536 Retina Display resolution.