A Post-PC World: The Evolution of the iPad

Since Apple first introduced the iPad in 2010, the signature tablet has sold more than 350 million units worldwide. If you don’t have one, you probably know someone who does. But how much do you know about the evolution of this innovative device? Here is a brief history of the iPad.

Apple Graphics Tablet

The earliest forerunner to the iPad was the Apple Graphics Tablet, released in 1979 for use with the Apple II personal computer. Unlike the iPad, however, this tablet was not a standalone device and could not function without being connected to the Apple II. Pre-dating the mouse by several years, the main function of the Apple Graphics Tablet was the ability to draw images that could be seen on-screen using a stylus, which also needed to be hooked up to the computer to work.

To use the device, a plastic overlay resembling graph paper was placed onto the tablet and held in place by whatever kind of tape the user had laying around. Incredibly, the package did not come with tape or any other way to secure the overlay to the tablet, so the overlay would slide quite often, requiring constant recalibration to synchronize the input from the device to the image on the screen.

The Apple Graphics Tablet had little in common with the iPads of today, but it was an important first step in the evolution of the portable tablets that would become ubiquitous 30 years later. In 1983, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs put forth his vision of what would eventually become the iPad when he gave a speech in which he mentioned the concept of a mobile book-like computer that anybody could learn to use in 20 minutes. He even had the idea that these standalone devices would be connected to databases and other computers.

Newton MessagePad

Although Steve Jobs had been forced out of the company in 1985, Apple forged ahead with the 1993 release of the Newton MessagePad, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) that was equipped with a stylus allowing users to enter input through their own handwriting and by tapping on the display screen. Unfortunately, there were a number of flaws with the device – including poor handwriting recognition, murky display, and an insufficient built-in dictionary – that made it awkward and inconvenient for the general public to take much interest. The MessagePad was finally discontinued in 1998 shortly after Jobs returned to Apple, still harboring his own dream of creating a portable tablet-like device.


The Napster controversy of the late 1990s led to the advent of the iPod, first released in 2001. This handy device completely revolutionized the music industry and brought it into the digital age with the introduction of iTunes in 2003, changing the way users bought, stored, and listened to music. The iPod easily outclassed all other MP3 players and became the most popular music player on the market.


In 2007, Apple unveiled its crown jewel, the iPhone. Not only was it a combination of the iPod and a mobile smartphone, the iPhone introduced the multi-finger touchscreen interface that was the hallmark of its operating system, later known as iOS, which spread across all of Apple’s products from the iPod Touch and iPhone to the iPad. In fact, the iPad was in development before the iPhone, but Steve Jobs and his colleagues decided that the phone was the more important device to be released first. Many of the concepts that were developed for the iPad were incorporated into the iPhone. The opening of the App Store in 2008, allowing users to download applications from a digital shop, was the next step that truly made the iPhone the most beloved smartphone in the world.


After spending decades as an abstract concept, the iPad finally became a reality in 2010. Apple sold 300,000 units on the first day and that number grew to 15 million by the end of the year, dwarfing the initial sales of the iPhone when it was first released. Because of Apple’s optimized supply chain and distribution network, the iPad shipped at a lower-than-expected price and catapulted the device to the top of the market. Netflix helped to establish Apple’s new tablet as a necessary piece of technology by releasing an app for the iPad before doing so for iPhone and the Android platform. Along with the explosion in popularity of the iPad came a host of accessories, including protective cases as detailed at iThingum.

iPad 2

The release of iPad 2 in 2011 came with a number of new features, including improved hardware and dual-facing camera technology that enabled users to conduct video conferencing via the FaceTime app. The dual-facing cameras also allowed augmented reality, in which the real world could be displayed with a digital overlay. Sadly, Steve Jobs passed away later that year, but his dream lived on in the “Post-PC” world that the iPad had ushered in.

iPad 3 and Beyond

With PC sales lagging behind, the iPad continued to evolve. 2012 saw the release of the third-generation iPad with improved camera, backside illumination, 4G network compatibility, and higher resolution retina display. Apple also welcomed digital helper Siri to the iPad and introduced a smaller version of the device – the iPad Mini – later in 2012, along with the HD camera-equipped iPad 4. The next generation of iPad, dubbed iPad Air, and iPad Mini 2 both came out in 2013, followed in 2014 by the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, which both featured new Touch ID fingerprint authentication.

iPad Pro

A third line of iPad products, called the iPad Pro, was introduced in 2015 featuring larger screens, improved resolution, and upgraded hardware. In addition, Apple also released the iPad Mini 4 in 2015. Along with the iPad Pro 2, 2017 saw the release of a new, more affordable iPad designed to appeal to a broader audience. Although the iPad has faced increased competition from Samsung and Lenovo in recent years, Apple remains the market leader in the tablet industry.