A year in the life of the Apple iPad

It seems like a lifetime ago that Steve Jobs held aloft the very first iPad at a keynote speech on January 27th 2010.

The world had to wait until April that year to get its hands on the highly desirable slab of glass and aluminium, but since the public launch of the first tablet PC to find a mass market audience, the iPad has had a very busy time.

Grumpy pundits dismissed the iPad as an overgrown iPhone - without the phone bit - and bemoaned the device's lack of buttons, its paucity of ports, its deficiency in the camera department and its inability (or more accurately unwillingness) to play Flash videos and animations.

Others grumbled incessantly about Apple's 'Walled Garden' approach to software, complaining that users would only be allowed to run software approved by Steve's minions and installed by the company's own iTunes software.

And yet more mocked the iPad's lack of a physical keyboard, its inability to multi-task and the fact that its name sounded unsettlingly like a feminine hygiene product.

But all of this carping, mainly from people who had never experienced the pleasure of fondling the device in the flesh, came to nought as people - and we're not just talking dedicated Apple fans here - brought the gadget by the shed-load.

Initial predictions from industry and media crystal-ball gazers pegged the iPad's potential sales at what many thought was an ambitious 3.3 million. What nobody could have predicted, even Apple if the ongoing disparity between supply and demand is anything to go by, is that the Cupertino company would shift three million units in the first three months, and more than 15 million to date.

Technology companies across the globe were caught on the hop by the iPad's unprecedented and unpredicted popularity, a fact made all the more pertinent by the appearance of close to 100 wannabe slates in various stages of production - from optimistic 3D graphic renders to working prototypes - at this year's CES gadget-fest in Las Vegas.

Some OEMs were so keen to jump on the tablet bandwagon that they brought out hastily-cobbled facsimiles which looked like an iPad but sucked like a sink-hole. One cheap Chinese tablet, powered by Android, manufactured by Maylong and branded by a number of High Street names including Walgreens in the US and Next in the UK, earned the ignominy of being named 'the worst gadget ever' by Ars Technica and others.

Even now, with mainstream outfits like Samsung, Advent, Archos and others starting to deliver proddable PCs to the buying public, Apple's share of the market has only slipped from 95 to 90 per cent.

We're pretty sure that someone will one day surpass the iPad in terms of raw computing power, or business functionality, or the number of dust-sucking holes it has in its case which you can hang ugly wires off of, but Apple's year-long head start puts the company in a very comfortable position.

Although Google's Android operating system, which is being hammered into a tablet friendly Gingerbread shape as we write, is sure to set the cat amongst the pigeons, Apple has an extra year of software and hardware development under its belt and virtually unlimited financial resources.

The announcement that the next generation of Apple's full-blown OSX, codenamed Lion, has learned lessons from the iOS4 operating system at the heart of the company's triumvirate of iDevices, and the launch of the Mac App Store are all indicators that a convergence between Apple's desktop and portable hardware is very much on the cards.

With worldwide tablet shipments predicted to grow by close to 70 per cent year on year and top 115 million by 2014, and the iPad 2 looming on the horizon, we reckon the tablet will be to the first half of this decade what the netbook was to the latter half of the previous one.

And if the likes of Dell and HP want to get in on the act, they'd better get a wiggle on.

Thanks to Onswipe whose excellent infographic provided the inspiration and some of the numbers for this article.