Abstract

This essay reviews the history and development of the tablet, as well as explores the specifics of Apple iPad, its competitors and its possible application as more than just a device for entertainment. All research was conducted via the internet and utilizes such resources as specific product’s websites, as well as biographic pages and commentary on several key figures in the development of the tablet over the years.

The results of the research conducted indicate that iPad has maintained its dominance over the tablet marketplace to date. This is partially due to its aesthetic design and technological specifications, but also due to its possible uses outside of the arena of personal computing entertainment. There may be challengers in the near future; however, the iPad will continue its reign as the king of the tablet marketplace.

Tablets and Apple iPad: History, Application and Competition

With technological advances of the 21st century, the United States and other westernized civilizations have seen rapid development of entertainment products flood the market. With the increasing sophistication and compact nature of our entertainment devices, however, has come a new market segment unseen in a way that has yielded true profit... until now. With progressing development of personal computers and laptops, the 20th and 21st centuries have bore witness to the rise of the tablet and subsequent dominance of Apple iPad.

Controversial or not, it can be utilized as truly useful tool and not just a toy. Many have argued that a tablet and more specifically, iPad, is simply an unnecessary technology that tech companies have used to woo a younger, more tech savvy generation of users. But is it truly arbitrary in its uses, or is there something more being unearthed as tablets continue to gain a foothold in the personal computing markets? Can these less powerful devices serve a purpose more than our own amusement? Does iPad deserve its reputation as king of the tablet marketplace?

Believe it or not, tablets have been on the planet in concept and material for many more years than most realize. According to Brian Chen with Wired.com, the first U.S. patent ever taken out on an electronic tablet for transcription occurred in 1888 by Elisha Gray, who registered a design with the purpose of transcription and transmission of written messages using a stylist (Chen 2009). Simple in its technique and unbeknownst to its creators, this design would eventually spawn what we would later refer to as a stylist. This now-primitive transcription technique became the initial standard in tablet computing for many years that is until Apple iPad was introduced on the market. Who knew that our 19th century compatriots were already laying the ground work for the future of computing well in advance of the first computer?

According to the Mike Holleran, President and COO of  the Xplore Technologies Cooperation, tablets continued on this path of simply transcription devices until the mid-20th century when the first handwriting transcription device was demonstrated in 1956 (Holleran, 2012). In 1956, most homes in the United States still did not have air conditioning – PCs simply were not on the public's mind. Tablets may have continued on this dreary path had it not been for one Dr. Alan Kay.

TED.com, most noted for their yearly TED Talks, says this about Kay, “One of the true luminaries of personal computing, Alan Kay conceived of laptops and graphical interfaces years before they were realized. At Xerox PARC, Apple, HP, and Disney, he has developed tools for improving the mind” (“TED.com”, 2012).

Dr. Kay is considered by many to be the father of laptop computers and modern Graphic User Interface (GUI). It is arguable that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would be nowhere near the level of success they are without Alan Kay. Doctor Kay also achieved high levels of academic success as he worked on his ideas in the late 1950s and 1960s. According to the DiscoveryChannel.com (2012), Alan Kay, “... has a B.A. in Mathematics and Biology, with minor concentrations in English and Anthropology from the University of Colorado, 1966. M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science (1968 and 1969, both with distinction) from the University of Utah, and Honorary Doctorates from the Kungliga Tekniska Hoegskolan in Stockholm, Sweden, Columbia College in Chicago, Georgia Tech, the University of Pisa in Italy, the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and the University of Murcia, in Murcia, Spain”.

The relevance of this education is not so much that he achieved high-level degrees and accolades, but that he created modern laptop and technology for modern tablet while still in school. Jobs and Gates may have revolutionized the PC and Tablet markets, but they could have never done so without the work put in by Alan Kay in the 1960s and 1970s.

According to the History of Computers website (2012), in 1968 Alan Kay brought his ideas to life with “Dynabook” concept with, “...a thin portable computer, highly dynamic device that weighed no more than two pounds. The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called the interim Dynabook” (history-computer.com, 2012).

The Dynabook was one of the platforms of Dr. Kay’s research and initial testing of his GUI utilized while he co-founded Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) n the early 1970s, an organization which would become the home base for many personal computing advancements in the 20th century (Feldman, 2004). His Dynabook concept never saw the market. However, due to its being, “too far ahead of technologies in the 60s and 70s” (history-computer.com, 2012).

Dr. Kay’s Dynabook had never seen the light of day, and his GUI was too advanced for computing during that time. The table concept was placed on the back burner until the end of the 1980s, when several companies decided to take this concept out for another test drive in the hopes of reinvigorating the market. According to Conrad Blickenstorfer, publisher of Rugged PCs, and editor-in-chief of Pen Computing Magazine, the hope during the late 1980s and early 1990s was that tablets would revolutionize the computing industry and eventually go on to replace desktops completely (Blickenstorfer, 2005).

According to Blickenstorfer, this form of early tablet mania hit its peak in 1991, prompting Microsoft Corporation to begin pushing a new line of products and system integration software known as Pen Extensions for Windows 3.1 (Blickenstorfer, 2005). These pin pads flopped in 1992 multiple startups and, most notably, GO Corporation and Dauphin filed for bankruptcy and were bought out by other tech giants in the industry (Blickenstorfer, 2005). 

Bill Gates, of the Microsoft Corporation, had other plans, however. The pen pad revolution was gone and buried by 1995, but Microsoft kept the concept on the shelf until 2002, when the company relaunched its pen pad hardware as “Tablet PC” (Blickenstorfer, 2005). In doing so, Blickenstorfer suggests that Microsoft began the tablet revolution as we know it today; though Apple would not go on to release its iPad tablet until 2010. He went on to say, “Once Microsoft reintroduced pen computers as the “Tablet PC” in 2002, slates and notebook convertibles made a comeback, and new companies such as Motion Computing joined the core of vertical and industrial market slate computers specialists.

The primary reason why the Microsoft-specification Tablet PC is reasonably successful whereas earlier attempts were not has two reasons. First, the technology required for a pen slate simply wasn’t there in the early 1990s. And second, the pen visionaries’ idea of replacing keyboard input with handwriting (and voice) recognition turned out to be far more difficult than anticipated... With the Tablet PC, Microsoft downplayed handwriting recognition in favor of “digital ink” as a new data type. This was a very wise decision” (Blickenstorfer, 2005).

After dozens of failed companies and products, later came one of the biggest technology events of the 21st century. On January 27th, 2010, the massive public relations machine at Apple announced its release of a brand new tablet, the Apple iPad (apple.com, 2010). Running a similar version of the revolutionary touch-screen interface unitized on iPhones since their release in June of 2007 (apple.com, 2007), Steve Jobs and his team at Apple took that concept one step further, and introduced what has arguably became the unequaled standard in tablet computing.

Like their competitors, Apple had also dabbled in the pen pad revolution of the 1980s and 1990s with several PDA and transcription-based portable devices, the last of which was pulled from consumer shelves in 1998 (HuffingtonPost.com, 2005). Twelve years would go by before Apple tried again. This time, however, they hit a home run, and blindsided the rest of the computing industry with a monetary powerhouse that started a mad dash to find a niche in this newly booming market segment. After over a century of concept and design failures, Apple had done what no other company had been able to achieve.

As it turns out, Apple and Steve Jobs largely had to thank a man named Jeff Raskin, who quit his job at Apple in 1982 after a falling out with Apple's co-founder, Steve Jobs (Elliott, 2005). According to Whet Moser, a staff writer with Chicago Magazine, Raskin found his true calling after he left Apple – user interfaces (Moser, 2011). He became to iPad what Alan Kay would become to tablet computing, all thanks to a feud between the co-founders of the company he would later aid in becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Raskin believed in something he called “The Human Interface”, and attempted to develop this in an operating system he called CAT (Moser, 2011). CAT failed, but he never let go of his vision and would later be credited for being one of the forefathers to the current iOS design that is Apple’s current user interface software. According to Jesus Diaz, an editor with  Gizmodo.com, Raskin saw a product that, “...would be so easy to use that anyone would be able to grab it, and start playing with it right away, without any training whatsoever” (Diaz, 2010).

Diaz expounds on Raskin’s vision in 2010, just as iPad released five years after the death of Raskin in 2005. He says, “He saw touch interfaces, however, and realized that maybe, if the buttons and information display were all in the software, he could create a morphing information appliance. Something that could do every single task imaginable perfectly, changing mode according to your objectives. Want to make a call? The whole screen would change to a phone, and buttons will appear to dial or select a contact. Want a music player or a GPS or a guitar tuner or a drawing pad or a camera or a calendar or a sound recorder or whatever task you can come up with? No problem: Just redraw the perfect interface on the screen, specially tailored for any of those tasks. So easy that people would instantly get it” (Diaz, 2010).

Raskin died before Apple iPhone first pioneered this technological concept with its iPhone, but his vision can clearly be seen in the current Apple products on the market. However, Apple did not stop there. In less than three years since its initial 2010 release, Apple has developed and released four separate and upgraded versions of its parent iPad product, and just released a smaller version called iPad Mini. Both iPad 4 and iPad Mini were released to the U.S. consumers on November 2nd, 2012 (apple.com, 2012).

With each new release have come changes and improvements, though some argue they are minimal and exist only to increase hype, thus increasing profit. Many also attribute this success with each new model to Apple's internal public relations behemoth, something that Steve Jobs utilized to his advantage numerous times prior to his death.

As iPads have progressed, Apple has been innovative less in external design changes, tending to stick with only a slightly thinner and larger design from the 1st generation to the 4th, and more with a focus on internal applications and software superiority, and improved screen resolution.

According to a review by Jason Snell of MacWorld.com, the original iPad of 2010 specs measured as, “...touchscreen is 9.7 inches measured diagonally, with a resolution of 1024-by-768 pixels. That’s the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio found on older TV sets, as opposed to the 16:9 ratio favored by modern HDTVs. The screen resolution is 132 pixels per inch, less than the 163 pixels per inch found on the iPhone” (Snell, 2010). The 1st generation iPad also ran an A4 processor at 1GHz (Snell, 2012).

Fast forward to 2012 and the 4th generation of iPad, while not much different in size, has seen significant upgrades field-tested and re-envisioned through the 2nd and 3rd generation releases up to the current product. The 4th generation iPad now boasts a 2048-by-1536 pixel Retina display, originally launched in the 3rd generation (Moren, 2012). It is also slightly larger than the first generation, but in line with the 2nd and 3rd generations at 9.50 height, and 7.31 inches (apple.com, 2012). The 4th generation is also quite a workhorse compared to the 1st and 2nd generations, with a massive A6X quad-core graphics card to effectively manage Retina display, which now boasts HD-level 1080p video recording and playback. In essence, the newest parent iPad is the computer the original iPad wished it could be.

But, what about iPad Mini? Apple’s website boasts that it is every inch an iPad, but just in a smaller package (apple.com, 2012). The specs tend to speak somewhat differently, however. Firstly, Mini is much smaller at only 7.9 inches and 7.2 mm thick or 23% thinner than a traditional iPad (apple.com, 2012). The processing chip is also less powerful, housing a slower A5x chip though still maintaining its 1080p video playback quality (apple.com, 2012). Beyond that, the specs generally are in line with the larger products. In essence, one is forced to sacrifice a bit of performance if going with the smaller version of iPad, however, with the technology as advanced as it is, only the most avid of users will be able to tell the difference in performance.

Now, iPad is not a cheap product with the basic 32G, Wi-Fi enabled mini product starting at $429.00 USD, and the larger comparable regular iPad starting at $599.00 USD (apple.com, 2012).  Many consumers have demanded a comparable product be produced at a more budget-friendly cost, but can any of the current answers to iPad’s de facto dominance really compare?

There are three perceived competitors to iPad at present found in Google Nexus 10, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Microsoft Surface. But do these products really compete?

The biggest difference between Tab and iPad, besides their obvious aesthetic differences, comes down to software and ease of use. Both products are of roughly the same dimensions and weight. However, with iPad 4th generation now boasting a quad-core processor, the one thing Tab was able to hold over iPad is now gone. Screen resolution on iPad is also much better, again at 2048-by-1536 pixels, whereas the most recent Tab boasts only 1280-by-800 (phonearena.com, 2012). The bottom line here is that iPad is a faster, sharper machine as long as you are willing to pay $100 USD more for the base price.

Salvador Rodriquez of the Los Angeles Times compared the difference between iPad and its other two primary competitors, Google Nexus 10 and Microsoft Surface in his 2012 article, declaring iPad the winner, but not by much. On the iPad’s superiority he says, “If you're looking for the best all-around tablet, the iPad still holds that title. But the Nexus 10 also performs admirably, and its starting price – $399 for the 16 GB model – is $100 less than the iPad's and the Surface's. So if you're looking for a great tablet experience but want to save some money, the Nexus 10 is a great choice” (Rodriquez, 2012).

According to Rodriquez, in the areas of sound, video and web surfing, Google Nexus 10 actually surpasses iPad in performance, despite being a smaller device with less impressive processing power (Rodriquez, 2012). In the area of apps, books, magazines and gaming, however, the iPads superior specs and style allowed it to maintain its title as king of the tablets.

As for Microsoft Surface, Rodriquez appeared not to be a fan, though it was noted that, unlike Nexus 10 and iPad, Surface did have a desktop interface and active live tiles that, while very cool, did little to overshadow its under-performing in every area and subpar processing specs and graphics ratio (Rodriguez, 2012).

Some have also argued that beleaguered tech firm RIM's Blackberry Playbook can potentially compete with the iPad. Unfortunately, with RIM reporting its smaller size, lack-luster display of 1024-by-600 screen resolution and less impressive 1.5 GHz duel core processor, there really is no competition (us.blackberry.com, 2012).

Besides having superior processing capabilities, though that may be changing in the near future, the other piece to iPad dominance is their successful marketing to educational and professional organizations, most currently focusing on American aviation. According to ipadpilotnews.com (2012), Apple has successfully released multiple apps for iPad designed to assist pilots in keeping up to date with FAA regulations and manuals as they transition from different aircraft, and keep up to date with training manuals and videos.

Among these apps are ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and WingX. All three of these revolutionary apps are subscription-based (monthly-fee required) apps that allow pilots to track live weather, flight traffic, file and update flight plants and locate airport codes and frequencies, all while on the go.

While all three apps offer all of the aforementioned features, some have a few extras that the others do not. For instance, WingX Pro7 offers fuel costs at all airports with a few touches of the screen. WingX also offers dual moving maps, so pilots can access multiple functions at the same time e.g., weather and live traffic radar. WingX also offers live temporary restrictions, flight restrictions, a function that is not advertised with the other devices (hiltonsoftware.com, 2011).

ForeFlight, however, does offer documentation services that WingX and Garmin Pilot do not, allowing pilots access to necessary items more quickly than its competitors. It does not, however, allow the dual maps or fuel costs of the WingX app (foreflight.com, 2012).

On the other hand, Garmin Pilot does offer a set of built-in calculators that estimate the pilot's fuel burn. From the features perspective, however, WingX and ForeFlight definitely dominate this app market in comparison (buy.garmin.com, 2012).

Whether it is through innovative aesthetic, or simply technological superiority in entertainment and professional application, iPad continues to dominate the tablet market, and will maintain that reign for the foreseeable future. Many technology experts wait for the day when a new company will rise to occasion and produce a product with the level of sophistication, ease of use, broad application and power as Apple has, but that day is not yet, and may not yet be for quite some time.

Order now

Related essays