How We Underestimated The iPad

How We Underestimated the iPad

The iPad just turned five. That's five years of reading emails at breakfast on slabs of glass and aluminium. Five years of wondering what the hell we were thinking when we first heard about this subtly transformative device. Five years!

Nearly two-and-a-half million people have feasted their eyes on former Gizmodo writer Adam Frucci's dissenting opinion, "8 Things That Suck About the iPad." Among his complaints were the facts that the original iPad didn't have Flash and that it didn't have a very good name. All of those things were true! But it was impossible to see how beside the point they really were and how the iPad manage to just sort of melt into modern-day life.

The technology has become so effortlessly useful, it's easy to forget about that time we all thought that Apple was crazy for peddling a giant iPhone for many hundreds of dollars. So many concerns and worries loomed large at the time, but they're downright laughable in hindsight. Here's a sampling.

"There's no Flash"

Back in 2010, the iPhone lacked Flash. Then the iPad lacked Flash. What was Apple doing?! A year later, Adobe pulled the plug on mobile Flash and admitted that HTML5 was "good enough". Today, Flash is nowhere near as prevalent as it used to be. Why? Steve Jobs laid out his reasoning in a blog post pegged to the iPad launch. "Flash was created during the PC era — for PCs and mice," he wrote. "But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards — all areas where Flash falls short."

What was dumb about bemoaning the lack of Flash didn't just amount to underestimating a Flash-free iPad. (Heck, iPhones didn't have Flash either, and people were already nuts about that device.) Doubting Apple's decision to conform to Adobe's technology amounted to ignoring the fact that PC technology wouldn't seamlessly translate to mobile computing. In retrospect, it seems equivalent to wondering why the Ford Model T didn't have a coal-powered steam engine.

"iPad is a bad name"

Remember how everybody flipped out about the name "iPad" — even before it was officially the name of Apple's tablet? We did. But imagine if it had been called the iSlate, or iTablet, iTabloid, or just iTab.

Besides, the technology industry is full of stupid names. We're talking about a world where a company named Yahoo! is worth over $US40 billion and one called eBay is worth $US60 billion. It's not because of their whimsical names borne from some late 90s delusion of hipness. Tech companies succeed because they make good products.

"I can't type on this thing"

The technology that makes the iPad purr remains impressively unimpressive. The guts really were — and are — not all that different from that of an iPhone, including that crazypants touchscreen keyboard that everybody thought they would hate. Well, it turns out Apple was right about this one. For those users who hadn't already gotten used to typing on their iPhone screens, a cottage industry of frankly fantastic portable keyboards emerged for your physical typing needs. Your dad probably loves his.

But that's kind of missing the point. In hindsight it makes sense that the ever-creative accessory industry would meet the demand of those who wanted physical keyboards. Developers would find creative ways to build apps that didn't need keyboards at all. The introduction of the iPhone was the dawn of a new era of minimalist design and the iPad took it one stage further, pushing us towards more gestures and less key-hunting. Now you have to wonder if we'll ever miss physical keyboards.

"I don't need a giant phone"

The iPad's size as one of the sticking points at the start, and how it was sort of just a 10-inch phone. Steve Jobs quite famously hated the idea of a 7-inch tablet. Not all tablets — just those ones with screens that were a little bigger than a smartphone but a lot smaller than a laptop. So along comes the 9.7-inch iPad, and man did that confound people. Longtime Gizmodo editor Brian Lam wrote in 2010, "Situated right between a phone and a notebook, the iPad is too big to pocket and too small to do any work on."

Well it was just right for something! Apple eventually caved and released the iPad Mini, although it looks like Steve Jobs disdain for that size was justified. The original 9.7-inch iPad size is still the most popular. That form factor has become the definitive size for a tablet, one that's big enough to watch movies on but small enough to throw in a tote bag. Although it turns out people love giant phones, the sales numbers prove that if they want an iPad, they want a big one.

"But I already have a laptop..."

This is perhaps the most misunderstood and yet most powerful aspect of the iPad's existence. At first, people thought the iPad was designed to kill the laptop. But hey guess what. People still buy laptops. "We've got a tiger by the tail here," Jobs said after Apple sold more iPads than MacBooks in 2010. "This is a new model of computing."

That new model hasn't amounted to the death of the laptop — not yet anyway. It meant the introduction of iPads where MacBooks wouldn't go.

It's pretty awkward to curl up on the couch with a laptop. There are a million other unexpected and even unimaginable uses for iPads, moments when we never knew we wanted a bigger screen than a smartphone or a smaller form factor than a laptop.

Like a toaster oven, many of us keep an iPad around for very specific use cases. The gadget's made itself indispensable, if only because it's perfect for one thing or another. For me, that something is following a recipe when I'm cooking. For my mum, it's cruising Facebook. For my dad, well, Dad's holding out for the iPad Pro. Bless his heart.

Image by Michael Hession


    I never thought I'd need one in 2010 and today in 2015 I still don't need one.

    The one work gave me just sits in its case same as it has the last few years.

    Despite the product not being for me I can see where it has its uses but I doubt I will ever think "Oh what a fool I was for not recognizing its greatness!"

    I would like to add however back when Steve Jobs talked about ditching flash I was a very big supporter as flash was and still is a massive piece of crap.

    Last edited 06/04/15 2:17 pm

      Even Microsoft created an iPad clone.

    I completely forgot about the whole flash thing. Thinking back I can't even remember why we needed flash, besides the occasional novelty websites, and addictive little games.

    Ipads and other tablets and any smartphone still have a lot of limitations compared to laptops, even for some very simple things. A lot of sites have adapted TO them in order to make things easier (or offer apps as alternatives), which ironically makes things harder in a lot of cases because many html 5 optimised for a mobile format are horrible and force you into viewing them into a specific way, you don't have the full range of options and customisability with tablets and smartphones- and when you attempt it, there are so many more hoops to jump through.

    It's so good for reading comics. Probably the main thing I use it for

    Reposting my comment from when this was posted on Gizmodo, why not?:

    I still think the iPad is dumb and I'm sometimes baffled by it's success, but I think that it's probably just aimed at an audience that isn't me. When I cook I almost never follow a recipe from text. I feel like the less I interact with Facebook the happier I am. I have no interest in watching movies/TV on such a small screen or, just in general, in environments where there's not a better option immediately available. I have an hour+ commute that I read books during, and I like reading books in that time because I'm not sure when else I'd do it. So I'm just not sure what I'd use an iPad for. They get brought out in social situations I'm in sometimes to show people a funny video or what have you but to be honest I feel like that hurts the interaction more often than it helps.

    That said I've never even owned a smartphone, so... I guess I'm just really not the audience. I mean, I'm 24 and studying a computer science degree (because I really like it more than for the job prospects), but... I dunno. I guess I spend so much time in front of computers/interacting with electronics already that the idea of wanting to do that even more strikes me as insane. I think I might be more of a Dad than my actual dad.

      I know I'm probably not going to convert you, but reading books on a mobile device is fantastic. There's just a lot of things that I never realised I needed until I started doing it, like built in high lighting, copy/paste, instant dictionary (assuming you have some kind of internet connection like 3g). Not to mention you can read whatever book you want at any time. I haven't looked back and I even find it incredibly difficult to read from a regular book now.

    And in those five years, they've released
    Ipad 2
    iPad 3
    iPad 4
    iPad air
    iPad air 2

    I wish the OSes didn't make the earlier versions 'buggy'

    Nope. Still don't see the necessity for one. I have to use one in my job and I hate it. The virtual keyboard is awful in comparison to my phone's (not an iphone, either)

    I'm not convinced anyone 'needs' one of these things. They straddle the insignificant divide of functionality between a smartphone and a laptop computer. No doubt people find them useful, but I always thought of them as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

    The only time I've ever entertained the notion of getting a tablet is so I can play solitaire on a touch screen. But I can never quite rationalise the hundreds of dollars for a solitaire machine.

      To a problem that *didn't* exist. I think the great success of the iPad was that it was something the people didn't even know they needed. But now they are utterly indispensable (for some people). They help us in ways we couldn't really imagine before we had one in our hands.

        lol, I appreciate your point, but to me an item that creates a problem that it then solves is to me a great marketing success than an actual successful technological leap. You some it up when you say "people didn't even know they needed" a tablet.

          When did I say it created a problem?

            You didn't per se, I perhaps should have said '... that *highlights* a problem'? My point was if people didn't know they needed one until they had it, any so-called problem an iPad solves wouldn't have been much of a problem at all.

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