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The iPad is the last of Apple's iconic mobile devices launched during Steve Jobs's tenure. Before the iPad's launch, tablet computers had been bulky and utilitarian PCs that failed commercially. Powered by the App Store, Apple's tablet became an overnight sensation and still dominates today's tablet market.

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Apple often refers to the iPad as the future of computing with its slim form factor and touch display. The company offers a wide variety of tablets in its lineup, from a budget-friendly model for students to a high-end powerhouse aimed at professionals.

The iPad was the last new hardware product category Steve Jobs announced before his passing. In the company's 2010 launch event, Jobs described the experience of using the tablet as "holding the internet in your hands."

Despite post-launch-event blowback mocking the iPad's name and dismissing it as an oversized iPhone or iPod touch, both consumers and critics hailed Apple's tablet as another breakthrough. It stormed its way to 15 million sales from April to December of that first year alone.

Current models for sale:

iPad Features

The iPad was first positioned as a content-consumption device for reading or viewing videos. However, Apple later improved performance and added accessories that transformed this simple tablet into a complex computing platform.

Display and Design

The iPad mini 6 is Apple's latest tablet The iPad mini 6 is Apple's latest tablet

Though the basic design is still a glass and aluminum slab, Apple's tablet has grown thinner and lighter through the years, with shrinking bezels, bigger and better displays, and the home button's removal.

Every model today has a Retina Display, Apple's marketing term indicating that human eyes won't differentiate individual pixels from a standard viewing distance.

Liquid Retina XDR Display

  • Used on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 264ppi
  • mini-LED backlight
  • P3 color gamut
  • True Tone
  • 1000 nits max brightness, 1600 nits max HDR brightness
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Fully laminated display
  • Anti-reflective coating
  • ProMotion technology

Liquid Retina Display

  • Used on the 11-inch iPad Pro and iPad Air
  • 264ppi
  • All-screen LED
  • P3 color gamut
  • True Tone
  • 600 nits max brightness (500 nits in iPad Air)
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Fully laminated display
  • Anti-reflective coating
  • ProMotion technology (iPad Pro only)

Retina Display on 10.2-inch iPad

  • 264ppi
  • LED
  • 500 nits max brightness
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating

Retina Display on iPad mini 6

  • 326ppi
  • All-screen LED
  • P3 color gamut
  • True Tone
  • 500 nits max brightness
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Fully laminated display
  • Anti-reflective coating

True Tone, included on all but the 10.2-inch model in today's lineup, uses ambient light sensors to adjust the screen's white balance based on your environment.

ProMotion technology, available only on iPad Pro models, supports up to a 120Hz refresh rate for "fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness, and smoother motion content." It also provides more responsive Apple Pencil input and varies the refresh rate to reduce power consumption.

iPadOS

The tablet runs a fork of iOS called iPadOS The tablet runs a fork of iOS called iPadOS

iPadOS is an operating system branched from iOS that Apple is now developing in parallel. Previously, iPads would only see few, if any, changes year-over-year in software, and this dedicated OS indicates Apple wants to do more for the tablet line.

iPadOS and iOS still share much of the same code base, meaning iPadOS is only distinct in a few key features. These differences should increase and become more varied as Apple updates the two.

With iOS 9, the tablet software showed a significant shift from the iPhone with the added ability to have multiple apps on the same screen. Slide Over adds a second floating app that you can bring onscreen by swiping from the edge. Split View, meanwhile, places two apps next to each other, spaced evenly or asymmetrically. 

Split View lets you view and interact with two apps side-by-side Split View lets you view and interact with two apps side-by-side

Multitasking and productivity were later refined in iOS 11 with better file sharing and drag and drop gestures. iPadOS 15 improved the multitasking system with keyboard shortcuts and ellipsis window indicators.

iOS 13 arrived in 2019 with many new features across the ecosystem, and with it, iPadOS. With its improved split-screen, multi-window app states, and external storage support, Apple's tablet took a significant leap forward as a laptop replacement.

iPadOS 15 was released in 2021 with minor alterations to the multitasking system to help users understand how to initiate and switch apps more easily. A new ellipsis appears at the top of each active window with options to place the app into different positions.

iPad apps

Many developers make universal apps for multiple screens Many developers make universal apps for multiple screens

The App Store operates as the sole storefront for software on iPads. Apple does not allow users to side-load apps from the web or use other app stores on iPadOS.

Many apps draw from the same codebase as their iPhone counterpart, with the iPad version making better use of the larger display. Developers often use multiple panels for these tablet apps that wouldn't fit on an iPhone's screen.

Apple pre-loads every tablet sold with various first-party apps. Once users finish the onboarding process on a new device, they can go to the App Store and download free and paid apps via their Apple ID.

App updates are free, but developers may lock some features behind paywalls called in-app-purchases or IAP. Some apps charge a subscription fee instead of IAP, unlocking features once a user subscribes. 

Smart Keyboard and Magic Keyboard

Accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil can transform the tablet into a laptop-like device Accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil can transform the tablet into a laptop-like device

Apple's first iPad keyboard accessory was a Keyboard Dock for the first-generation iPad that propped up the tablet in portrait mode. For several generations, Apple didn't release any dedicated keyboards for its tablets.

When the first iPad Pro launched in late 2015, Apple began marketing the tablet as a new computing category that could replace a laptop for some customers. The Apple Smart Keyboard was an integral part of that strategy.

Typing on the Smart Keyboard Folio Typing on the Smart Keyboard Folio

The Smart Keyboard is similar to the Smart Cover, snapping magnetically to the tablet and connecting instantly through Apple's Smart Connector. It has fabric-covered and water-resistant keys.

The Apple Smart Keyboard (or Smart Keyboard Folio), sold in several different sizes through the years, supports the following iPads:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad Air 4 and iPad Air 5
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad Air 3
  • 10.2-inch iPad (seventh- and eight-generation)

The Smart Keyboard was an iPad Pro exclusive until 2019 when Apple launched the iPad Air 3 and seventh-generation iPad, both supporting the keyboard accessory.

The Magic Keyboard mounts the tablet to float over the keys The Magic Keyboard mounts the tablet to float over the keys

In early 2020, Apple launched the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, which added Mac-style scissor-switch keys and a glass trackpad that took advantage of iPadOS's new cursor support. The accessory has a stand that magnetically mounts the tablet, making it float above the keys while dynamically tilting at various angles.

The Magic Keyboard supports the following models:

  • 11-inch iPad Pro (first-generation and up)
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (third-generation and up)
  • iPad Air 4 and up

Apple Pencil

Apple offers two generations of Apple Pencil, each compatible with different iPads Apple offers two generations of Apple Pencil, each compatible with different iPads

The first-generation iPad Pro also marked the arrival of the Apple Pencil. Its primary use case was targeted at drawing and taking notes.

For sketching, the Apple Pencil has low latency, pressure sensitivity, and support for tilting and shading. You can also use it as a pointer to edit text, navigate apps or web pages, or sign documents.

The first-generation Apple Pencil has fully rounded sides. It pairs and charges through the tablet's Lightning port, one of the limits of the original Apple Pencil. It leaves the tablet with a protruding stylus and prevents users from charging the tablet and Apple Pencil simultaneously.

The first-generation Apple Pencil is compatible with the following models:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (first- and second-generation)
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad Air 3
  • 9.7-inch iPad (sixth-generation)
  • 10.2-inch iPad (seventh-generation and up)
  • iPad mini 5

In late 2018, Apple introduced a second-generation Apple Pencil with several key improvements. Rather than being fully rounded, the second-generation model is flat on one edge, making it more ergonomic in hand and preventing it from rolling off surfaces.

Wireless charging the second-generation Apple Pencil Wireless charging the second-generation Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil 2 also supports wireless charging, mounting magnetically to the side of a compatible iPad to draw power. It also adds tap gestures, with sensors on the accessory's side registering finger taps as customizable responses. These customizable tap actions can include switching between tools and toggling the color palette.

The second-generation Apple Pencil supports:

  • 11-inch iPad Pro (first-generation and up)
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (third-generation and up)
  • iPad Air 4 and up
  • iPad mini 6

Apple Silicon

Apple has made custom processors for generations Apple has made custom processors for generations

Apple builds its custom processors for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Mac. By developing its chipsets, Apple can customize its software to work directly with the hardware so that competitors cannot imitate it.

Apple Silicon isn't a single processor but a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that combines multiple technologies into a single wafer.

The iPad Air 4 contains the A14 Bionic chip, which is found in the iPhone 12 series. It utilizes a 5nm architecture and offers up to double the graphics performance of the previous generation. The chip has a six-core CPU and 11.8 billion transistors, 40% more than the A13.

The 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro lines use an A12X chip. While it's older than the A14 found in the cheaper iPad Air 4, the A12X has eight dedicated GPU cores that should give it an edge in graphically-intensive tasks.

The 2021 iPad Pros and iPad Air 5 use the M1 processor, the first Apple Silicon processor designed for Mac. Users can get 8GB or 16GB of RAM based on internal storage choice, but the iPad Air 5 only gets 8GB of RAM because it doesn't have the higher storage options.

The iPad mini 6 uses the A15 processor, the same one used in the iPhone 13.

Security

Face ID allows users to log in and verify passwords without lifting a finger Face ID allows users to log in and verify passwords without lifting a finger

The first iPad biometric sensors arrived in 2014, with the arrival of Touch ID in the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. After that, every new model Apple released has used one form of biometric security.

The third-generation iPad Pro gained an all-screen design, replacing the Touch ID home button with Face ID. In late 2020, the iPad Air also went all-screen, but, perhaps to cut costs compared to Face ID, Apple instead opted for Touch ID in the device's power button. The iPad mini 6 uses the same power button Touch ID.

Ports and Connectivity

The iPad Pro's USB-C port supports more accessories, including hubs The iPad Pro's USB-C port supports more accessories, including hubs

The first three iPads used Apple's old 30-pin connectors. Starting with the fourth-generation model and iPad mini in late 2012, Apple switched to a Lightning port for charging and syncing.

The following change arrived with the 2018 iPad Pro lineup, which shifted to USB-C for broader accessory compatibility. The iPad Air 4 and iPad mini 6 also use USB-C.

The 2021 iPad Pro lineup moved to Thunderbolt 3 when updated with the M1 processor.

The 10.2-inch iPad is the only model still using a Lightning port.

Apple sells each model in both WiFi-only and more expensive WiFi-with-cellular-data variants. Cellular models are sold unlocked at full price and subsidized through wireless carriers.

Photography and Videography

The 2020 iPad Pro has two lenses an a LiDAR sensor for AR The 2020 iPad Pro has two lenses and a LiDAR sensor for AR

For most people, cameras aren't as necessary on a large tablet as they are on a pocketable iPhone. iPads typically have cameras at least one or two generations behind the latest iPhone cameras.

Compared to other iPads, the iPad Pro line has higher-end sensors that can record video or create other professional content. The 2018 models have two cameras, including one 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens.

The iPad Pro lineup also has a LiDAR sensor, supporting enhanced augmented reality (AR) content. LiDAR will likely also be a key sensor in the long-rumored "Apple Glass."

iPad Services

Apple's tablet wouldn't be what it is today without the help of software and services. The company has slowly built an entire software ecosystem surrounding its ever-popular mobile devices. Through each of these services, paid or not, Apple adds to the base value of every iPad sold.

Siri

Siri is Apple's AI voice assistant across all screens Siri is Apple's AI voice assistant across all screens

Siri is a powerful voice assistant that exists across Apple's product ecosystem. On the iPad, it acts as a user-facing assistant with deep app connections and controls, and it also serves as the background intelligence that powers everyday operations.

Contacts, Calendar, Photos, and even the system keyboard rely on Siri Intelligence to manage information and surface what is most relevant to the user. Siri also acts as the brains behind Shortcuts, which users can activate via the assistant, widgets, or in-app.

Apple does not directly monetize Siri, but it does use the assistant as a primary selling point for its mobile devices and audio gear like HomePod and AirPods.

iMessage

iMessage is Apple's encrypted chat service for Apple devices iMessage is Apple's encrypted chat service for Apple devices

iMessage is an Apple proprietary technology using end-to-end encryption to send messages via the web. Sending and receiving iMessages is exclusive to Apple products and has been cited as a significant consumer lock-in source.

When communicating via iMessage, a user will see messages as blue bubbles, be able to share complex multi-media files, and use sticker packs and message effects. Apple also enhances iMessage group chats with unique features like message threads and custom group chat images.

Apple Books

Apple Books lets iPad owners use their tablet as an eReader Apple Books lets iPad owners use their tablet as an eReader

Originally called iBooks, Apple Books is the company's combined digital bookstore, ebook-viewing app, and audiobook player. The service initially launched on the first-generation iPad and later came to the iPhone and Mac.

The tablet screen size and form factor make it well-suited to reading, serving as an alternative to dedicated eReaders like the Amazon Kindle.

Apple Music

Apple Music is the company's cloud-based music service Apple Music is the company's cloud-based music service

The music-streaming service that birthed Apple's push into services debuted in 2015. Apple Music is $9.99 a month and offers student and family plans. The service lives within the Music app on Apple's mobile devices, Mac, and the web.

Users can purchase music from iTunes when it is not available on the service, and it will populate into their Apple Music library. If a user adds a physical CD to their Music app on macOS, the music will be synced across their account as well.

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade lets subscribers play a library of games on all their Apple devices Apple Arcade lets subscribers play a library of games on all their Apple devices

Apple Arcade is a monthly subscription service to games across all Apple platforms. A $9.99 per month subscription provides access to the entire game catalog and any new releases or updates.

The service has games from multiple genres and can be played with touch, though most support third-party controllers. Apple's push into gaming has made them embrace controllers like the Playstation DualShock 4 and the Xbox Elite controller.

Apple TV+

Apple TV+ offers original video content Apple TV+ offers original video content

Apple Studios is a new media branch within Apple that purchases and manages content for the video-streaming service Apple TV+. The subscription costs $4.99 a month and exists on every Apple platform and several competitor devices.

The Apple TV app is needed for viewing Apple TV+ and is available on iPadOS.

Apple News+

Apple News is a news-aggregation app, and the company offers a premium content tier called Apple News+. The subscription is $9.99 per month and gives customers access to premium articles from newspapers and magazines.

iCloud Storage

The term "iCloud" is a catch-all for Apple's syncing and storage service across devices and apps. The service portion of iCloud is specifically iCloud Storage.

Apple charges the following monthly fees for its storage tiers:

  • 5GB is free
  • 50GB is $0.99
  • 200GB is $2.99
  • 2TB is $9.99

Apple Pay

Apple Pay works on Apple's tablet for payments in apps, websites, and person-to-person Apple Pay works on Apple's tablet for payments in apps, websites, and person-to-person

Apple's tablets include partial support for Apple Pay, the company's secure payment service.

Apple Pay on iPad works in apps, on the web, in Safari, and with person-to-person and business chats. iPads don't support the NFC portion of Apple Pay used with in-store terminals.

 

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