Inside

iPad

iPad

Last updated: 4 weeks ago

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.

● First released in 2010
● Defined and refined tablet product category
● Runs custom software called iPadOS
● Keyboards and Apple Pencil greatly enhance productivity potential
● Four different models sold today


Following the iPhone's monumental success, Apple saw an opening for a device sitting between a smartphone and a laptop that was far better at things like browsing, photos, and reading. The result, the iPad, immediately defined the consumer tablet category and still dominates that market today.

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.

Steve Jobs at the 2010 launch event Steve Jobs at the 2010 launch event

iPad sales began declining several years after its initial meteoric rise, possibly due to increasing phone sizes and customers not upgrading as frequently as they would phones. However, Apple's tablet numbers have picked up again as more people work from home and videoconference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple's tablet is the centerpiece product for what the company envisioned as "the post-PC era," where cloud-connected mobile devices supplant traditional desktop PCs as our primary computers.

Today, Apple makes premium accessories that can seamlessly transform the tablet from a standalone slate into a powerful laptop-like device with a physical keyboard and trackpad.

Current models for sale:

iPad Features

Today, the iPad is almost as good for creating as it is consuming Today, the iPad is almost as good for creating as it is consuming

Apple launched the iPad as an aluminum-and-glass slab, reminiscent of the iPhone, that worked best for content consumption. While the same materials and shape prevail in today's designs, keyboard and stylus accessories can turn it into a full-fledged productivity device.

In a 2018 ad campaign, as Apple pivoted the tablet towards productivity capabilities that rivaled its consumption abilities, the company challenged customers to rethink their definition of a computing device by asking, "What's a computer?"

Apple's slate runs a tablet-focused fork of iOS called iPadOS. Apple released the latest version, iPadOS 14, in September 2020.

Display and Design

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, which is Apple's marketing term indicating human eyes won't differentiate individual pixels from a standard viewing distance.

Today's lineup offers screen sizes ranging from 7.9 to 12.9 inches:

Display sizes of the current iPads Display sizes of the current iPads

Apple uses the marketing terms Liquid Retina and Retina to differentiate its current displays.

Liquid Retina Display

  • Used on iPad Pro and iPad Air
  • 264 ppi
  • 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

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

Retina Display on iPad mini 5

  • 326 ppi
  • 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.

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.

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. For these tablet apps, developers often use multiple panels that wouldn't fit on an iPhone's screen.  

Apple pre-loads every tablet sold with various first-party apps. Once users finish the on-boarding 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 choose to charge a subscription fee instead of IAP, unlocking features once a user subscribes. 

iPad Smart Covers, Cases, and Folios

Jobs revealing the Apple Smart Cover Jobs revealing the Apple Smart Cover

Since the first-generation iPad, Apple has made cases, covers, folios, and keyboards to use with its tablet. Today, these accessories are an integral piece of its tablet ecosystem, including keyboards that transform the slate into a computing device that can often replace laptops.

When the first model launched in 2010, Apple sold a relatively thick and heavy case with a cover that folds back into a stand.

Apple's bulky case for the first-generation model Apple's bulky case for the first-generation model

The following year, Apple introduced the Smart Cover, an accessory still sold today for the latest models. Apple designed the Smart Cover alongside the iPad 2, with magnets inside the tablet allowing the cover to snap on and off easily. All iPads today have sensors that automatically wake the device when removing an Apple Smart Cover or other accessories.

Apple also made Smart Cases and their modern version, Smart Folios, which protect the iPad's front and back. The Smart Folio differs from the discontinued Smart Case by attaching to the iPad's back via magnets, making it quicker and easier to remove and reattach.

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 the next several generations, Apple didn't release any dedicated keyboards for its tablets. During that time, customers who wanted physical typing were limited to Bluetooth accessories.

When the first iPad Pro launched in late 2015, Apple began marketing the tablet as a new computing category that can 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
  • 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' new cursor support. The accessory has a stand that magnetically mounts the tablet, making it appear to float above the keys while dynamically tilting at various angles.

The Magic Keyboard supports the following models:

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

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, the company's stylus for drawing and pointing.

For sketching, the Apple Pencil has low latency, pressure sensitivity, and support for tilting and shading. You can also use it as a pointer for editing text, navigating apps or webpages, or signing 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- and eight-generation)

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 (like switching between tools and toggling the color palette).

The second-generation Apple Pencil supports:

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

Apple Silicon

Apple designs its own chips for mobile devices and (coming soon) Macs Apple designs its own chips for mobile devices and (coming soon) Macs

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

Apple's custom 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. 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 eighth-generation iPad and iPad mini 5 use an A12 Bionic, the chip initially found in the 2018 iPhones. It also lacks the extra graphical cores of the A12X found in the latest iPad Pro.

Connectivity

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

Apple added 5G connectivity to the iPhone 12 series in late 2020. All current iPad models max out at 4G LTE speeds, but Apple will likely add 5G to the next cellular iPad Pro models that release in 2021.

Audio

Only the iPad Pro lineup has a four-speaker array for stereo in both portrait and landscape Only the iPad Pro lineup has a four-speaker array for stereo in both portrait and landscape

The iPad Pro lineup has a four-speaker array for rich stereo sound in both landscape and portrait orientations.

Other models of Apple's tablet have two-speaker setups, though most have two speakers on the same side (the bottom edge). This means they only support stereo audio in portrait mode.

The iPad Air 4 is the only two-speaker model that puts the speakers on opposite sides, supporting landscape (but not portrait) stereo.

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. Every new model Apple released after that 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.

Ports

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 next change arrived with the 2018 iPad Pro lineup, which shifted to USB-C for broader accessory compatibility. The 2020 iPad Pro line and iPad Air 4 also use USB-C.

The iPad mini and eighth-generation iPad are the only current models still using Lightning ports.

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 going to be as necessary on a large tablet as they are on a pocketable iPhone. iPads typically have cameras that are 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 be useful for recording video or creating other professional content. The 2020 models have two cameras, including one 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens.

The 2020 iPad Pro lineup also added a LiDAR sensor, which supports 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 ecosystem of software 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 all 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, through 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 be able to 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 that exist 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 titles 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 even 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.

What's Next

The only model Apple hasn't updated in 2020 is the iPad mini. Reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts the company will release a new model with an 8.5- to 9-inch screen in early 2021.

Kuo believes a refreshed iPad Pro is also coming in early 2021, with the main update being mini-LED displays and perhaps 5G in the cellular models. Mini LED uses more LEDs with more zones across the display, allowing future models to provide better contrast, vibrant colors, deeper blacks, and brighter highlights.

Since launching the first iPad Pro in 2015, Apple has incrementally increased the tablet software's productivity capabilities. The company will likely continue that trend in iPadOS 15 and beyond.

 
 

iPad Related Stories