On Thursday the iPad turned one year old. It didn't launch until 3 April, but on 27 January 2010 Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and announced a device he claimed was "magical" and "revolutionary". The world laughed, it was a big iPod touch. 12 months on and hopefully in improving health Jobs can now afford himself a wry smile. The iPad has been the most successful launch in Apple's history and changed the technology industry. The bigger questions are why and what can be done about it?
When Apple announced its remarkable Q1 results last week the iPad accounted for $4.6 billion in revenue. 7.33 million units sold in just three months, 15 million units since April. iPad earnings almost equal the whole of Apple's 27 year old Mac business. Yet contrary to Jobs' marketing hyperbole the iPad isn't magical, its hardware is limited and it is arguably the ugliest product to have escaped the Cupertino labs in years. In May we reviewed the iPad and gave it seven out of 10, it was nearly a six. Come December it was Readers' Choice product of the year. The parody videos dried up, no one was laughing at the name.
The transformation has been remarkable. Tablets were a poisoned chalice. Everyone had tried and failed to make one, even Apple. Bigger than a phone, less functional that a laptop yet no cheaper. A form factor that needs two hands to type, yet two hands to hold. The insolvable riddle was finally cracked open by doing very little at all.
Of course this statement is disingenuous. In making the iPad the hardware was the easy part, because the groundwork was laid in the ecosystem. What carried the iPhone to success was iOS and the App Store built upon it. For the iPad to succeed there was no need to stray from a winning recipe, instead the battle was to ensure developers embraced it and they did in their droves. If anything the iPad is the ultimate embodiment of the power of software. Cramming all an iPhone's hardware into that skinny shell is staggering. Adding just some of it into an iPad is far from it. Apple didn't make a great product, third parties did and they keep making it better all the time. It is no wonder momentum snowballed and apps got ever more creative.
Perhaps most interesting, is it means everyone was right. At launch the iPad was little more than a big iPod touch and its diet was apps designed for 3.5in screens. I maintain: seven out of 10 was generous. You don't review a product on its third party software: Windows Vista didn't get that luxury. Consequently the iPad would score little better now, but as a package devotees have the right to coo. The iPad is the great love/hate device where both sides are equally right.
All of which creates a major challenge for everyone else: how on earth do you compete with a device that is widely successful almost in spite of itself and because of massive third party support on a proprietary platform? The glib answer would be to say: not easily. The greater issue, however, is that - as if the challenge wasn't great enough – rivals are making huge mistakes.