What is the iPad?

God, I’m so tired of asking myself this. It’s been ten whole years since the first iPad came out, and this question hasn’t gotten any easier to answer, in fact, in some ways, it’s gotten harder to. At first, even before the it was formally unveiled, many thought the iPad -or whatever they thought the iPad was, was going to be the evolution of the computer, and in some ways this notion is true, but that fact isn’t necessarily apparent today, and it certainly wasn’t apparent right after the iPad was unveiled. The public’s initial response to the iPad came as shock to Apple, but it shouldn’t have been so unexpected. Prior to its release, the iPad was easily the most hyped up and speculated upon product Apple has ever put out. Hot off the success of the iPhone just a few years prior, rumors and theories were rampant about what the iPad-the name of which was at the time unknown and one of the mostly widely speculated parts of the device- was going to be, with many well versed industry veterans claiming it would completely revolutionize personal computers and the way we used them on a scale unseen since the introduction of the Macintosh. One famous account from the Wall Street Journal even went as far as to say “The last time people were this excited about a tablet it had some commandments written on it”, a perfect summary of the sheer excitement leading up to the iPad’s introduction. Of course, all of this hype led to some amount of disappointment when the iPad turned out to be completely different from what everyone was expecting it to be, with many seeing the final product as a glorified oversized iPhone good for nothing besides reading the New York Times while sitting on the toilet, and, just like with the notion that the iPad would be the future of the computer, this notion was also partly correct. Despite this initial sourness, though, the 1st generation iPad went on to sell incredibly well, shattering critics’ expectations and cementing the device as a success among the likes of the iPhone and Mac before it, but this didn’t mean that said critics were wrong in their critiques, as, at least at first, the main purpose of the iPad from the very first keynote that introduced it seemed to be content consumption. With each any every new iPad release, Apple has made several improvements to the device to further its potential as a tool for creators, with the introduction of the iPad 2 and its heavy focus on creative professional tools like iMovie and GarageBand, they’ve tried to shift the narrative of the iPad as a device for creation, a narrative furthered by things like the Apple Pencil, all in the name of developing the iPad as a tool for creation, rather than a medium for consumption, Over time, the iPad has grown and developed as a product, but at the same time, it’s true role in the tech zeitgeist hasn’t become any more clear, and the question of what the iPad is hasn’t gotten any easier to answer? But why even ask the question “What is an iPad?” in the first place? Well, I ask the question because I think that, without an answer to the question, the iPad can’t really reach its full potential, because if people don’t know what the iPad is, they’ll never understand it, and then they won’t buy it, and developers won’t understand its capability as a platform, and then they won’t build the apps the iPad needs to reach its true potential as a product. So then, what is an iPad? Is it really the next evolution of the personal computer, is it a tool for creators, or is it just a media consumption device. Well, the truth is that its all of these things, and while that at first may sound like I’m being hypocritical what with my earlier criticism of blanket statements and all, this belief is one I hold true, and one I think not only rings true to the mythos of the iPad, but that is also very true to the idea of the computer itself. The whole entire idea of the computer stems from the fact that you get out of one what you put in it, an idea penned by Charles Babbage before the something even close to what we consider a computer today was invented, but nonetheless one that rings true throughout history and one that pertains more to the iPad than perhaps any other computing device ever. In the context of this “garbage in, garbage out” idea of computing, the iPad is the distillation of the computer in the sense that, it is whatever you make of it. If you use your iPad to read the New York Times on the toilet, then that’s what the iPad is, if you use it to run your spreadsheets and attend zoom meetings, then that’s what the iPad is, and if you use the iPad as your main computer, than that’s what the iPad is. So back to the question within a question: Why even bother asking?, well I ask because I think that, fundamentally, the iPad is the most important product that Apple makes, it is completely unrivaled by every other computer, yes, including the Mac, in terms of raw potential, and the iPhone, while it is without a doubt Apple’s most successful and impactful product, it’s limited in where it can go, and it’s time in the spotlight is fleeting, along with the smartphone as a whole. You see, the problem with the iPad isn’t with the device itself, but how Apple markets it. They’re so close to getting people to fully comprehend the power of the iPad as a device, and with each iteration, they get a little bit closer towards getting the world to understand the iPad, but they’re not quite there yet, and they may never be. But until then, we’ll have to keep raising the question: what is the iPad?

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