To date, the company has sold more than a quarter of a billion of them.
The iPad, of course, wasn't the first tablet the world had ever seen, but it landed at a moment, and with a set of features, that sent the tablet market on a wild growth curve. Within just 60 days, Apple announced it had sold two million of the devices -- and other companies tripped over themselves to get competitors to market within the year. The tablet met a need in the computing space that just wasn't getting met by ultra-compact netbooks that had previously filled the space between a laptop and a desktop computer. On a conference call in April 2010, just after the iPad's launch, Apple's then-chief operating officer. Tim Cook. said, "To me, it's a no-brainer... I can't think of a single thing a netbook does well."
Consumers agreed. Five years later, netbooks are dead, replaced in the market's heart by tablets and ultra-lightweight but powerful laptops such as the MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13. And iPads, meanwhile, are everywhere: in schools, in restaurants and on the walls of art museums.
Yet analysts are quick to note now that tablet sales just aren't what they used to be. The category saw its first year-to-year dip ever in the last quarter of 2014, according to IDC, with 76.1 million units. Even Apple has seen its iPad sales growth dip; its latest earnings report showed iPad sales were down 18 percent from the same period last year. The slowing growth has been attributed to the rise of big-screen smartphones, such as the latest models of Apple's own iPhones. There are also lingering questions about just how many sizes of screen people really need and how often they want to replace their tablets.
So, will tablets last? Former BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins famously said in 2013 that he thought tablets would be dead within five years. (He was fired from BlackBerry within the year, in part for failing to compete well with Apple.) But Cook -- now Apple's CEO -- says he's still "very bullish" on the product that Apple set into motion five years ago. And Apple has changed its selling pitch for the iPad -- from one that touted a consumer-focused product mostly used for consumption to one that touts the tablet as creation tool for schools and businesses, as well as consumers. A 2014 partnership with IBM, a former Apple nemesis, showed just how serious the company was about bringing the devices into the enterprise market -- and where the company sees great potential for growth.
"I'm not projecting something very different next quarter, or the next," Cook said in the January call. "I'm thinking over the long run."
Meanwhile, Apple is getting ready to make another big bet with the Apple Watch -- a product that many have mocked as a solution looking for a problem, or one that they see potential for -- but don't get quite yet.
Here are some key points in the iPad's history, courtesy of Apple:
- January 27: Apple announces iPad, which includes access to 12 apps designed specifically for iPad, will also run almost all of the over 140,000 apps on the App Store.
- April 3: iPad first available in the United States.
- April 5: Apple announces it sold over 300,000 iPads on the first day.
- May 31: Apple sells two million iPads in less than 60 days.
- September: Cedar Schools of Excellence in Scotland is first to launch a 1:1 iPad program.
- December 9: Time names iPad “Gadget of the Year.”
- March 2: Apple introduces iPad 2, now including front- and rear-facing cameras and up to 10 hours of battery life, announces more than 15 million iPads sold, introduces iMovie and GarageBand for iPad, runs over 350,000 apps on the App Store and the more than 65,000 native iPad apps available. The Smart Cover is introduced for iPad 2.
- March 11: iPad 2 arrives for customers.
- March 25: Guinness World Records calls iPad the “fastest-selling consumer electronics device” in history.
- May 9: Queen Elizabeth II orders an iPad after seeing Princes William and Harry use theirs.
- December 13: The Federal Aviation Administration approves iPads in cockpits and during all phases of flight.
- March 7: Apple introduces the new iPad, featuring a new Retina display delivering four times the number of pixels of iPad 2; iPad runs over 585,000 apps available on the App Store, including more than 200,000 native iPad apps.
- March 16: New iPad arrives in stores.
- October 23: iPad mini is introduced, featuring a 7.9-inch design you can hold in one hand. New fourth generation iPad is unveiled.
- November 5: Three million iPads (iPad mini and 4th gen iPad) are sold in just three days — double the previous first weekend milestone of 1.5 million Wi-Fi only models sold for the third generation iPad in March.
- December 12: Pope Benedict XVI uses iPad to tweet first blessing.
- February 28: iTunes U educational content downloads top one billion.
- May 12: Astronaut Chris Hadfield takes iPad to the International Space Station, sends back recording of himself covering David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
- May 14: Square introduces Square Stand, the cash register for iPad.
- October 22: Thinner, lighter iPad Air is introduced alongside iPad mini with Retina display - both featuring 64-bit Apple-designed A7 chip.
- Over 475,000 native iPad apps now available.
- November 12: iPad mini with Retina display becomes available.
- January 7: Over 500,000 apps designed specifically for iPad are now available on the App Store.
- March 27: Microsoft unveils “Office for iPad.”
- July 15: Apple and IBM forge a global partnership to transform the way work will get done, bringing IBM’s big data to iPad and iPhone; IBM to sell iPads and iPhones and with industry-specific apps to business clients worldwide.
- October 16: iPad Air 2 is introduced, the thinnest, most powerful iPad ever, weighing less than a pound. iPad mini 3 is introduced with Touch ID, available in gold and with 675,000 iPad apps designed specifically for it.
- November: Following Black Friday 2014, Custora reports that iPad accounts for 82 percent of all U.S. e-commerce transactions from tablets.
January 27: iPad sales total more than a quarter of a billion worldwide.
March 25: British government announces all members of Parliament will be given an iPad Air 2.
April 3: iPad turns 5.