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Apple iPad at 10: A decade of tablets

The iPad ushered in a new era of mobile computing and spurred many competitors. Here are some successes and failures.

Published onJanuary 28, 2020

iPad Pro 9.7 homescreen showing apps
As a secondary device (or when my laptop is busy exporting), the iPad Pro does almost everything I need for work or play.

Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, announced the first iPad tablet on January 27, 2010. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was to usher in a new era of mobile computing, though one fraught with successes and failures.

Here’s a rundown of the most noteworthy tablets to take aim at the slate market over the last 10 years. Did you own any of these?

Apple iPad

Staff Picks Eric Apple iPad Pro

The iPad, in all its forms and iterations, remains the market leader. The audience was stunned the day Steve Jobs announced the tablet, perhaps mostly by the slate’s price, which started at $499. True, at launch it was an oversized iPhone with the same iOS platform and App Store, but Apple has worked hard over the years to differentiate it.

Apple’s tablet now comes in at least four different models and in several different sizes, including Mini, Air, and Pro variants. The current iPad Pro line is as powerful as some laptops and can be used for creating content as well as consuming it. In fact, this article was written on the iPad Pro pictured above.

The iPad business may have fluctuated over the years, but Apple has enjoyed solid sales since introducing its newest slates. Most importantly, the iPad earned its own fork of iOS called iPadOS. The new platform gives developers more opportunity to target the tablet with rich apps.

With a great screen, stylus support, and blazing fast performance, the iPad, despite it faults and shortcomings, is still one of the most powerful mobile computers the planet has ever known.

Motorola Xoom

OMG, the Xoom. Motorola’s entry in the tablet space was the first real Android slate to offer some competition to the iPad. It was a disaster. The Xoom, which came in 8- and 10-inch models, ran Android 3 Honeycomb — a version of Android adjusted for the tablet form factor — and was one of the first tablets to offer cellular data. It was a mess.

The hardware was utilitarian at best. The real crime was the processor, an NVIDIA Tegra 2. It was significantly underpowered and could hardly do anything without it make you wait eons.

I bought one of these sorry tablets, but thanks to the kludgy software I eventually used it only to serve as a mobile hotspot. It was a bad tablet and didn’t hurt the iPad at all. It later became the Xyboard. I think it’s still in my attic somewhere.

Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7 Leaning on Box

The Google Nexus 7 family were the darling tablets of the Android world for a spell. It was sold in 2012 and 2013, with the latter variant (pictured above) standing as a role model for smaller slates.

With its 7-inch screen, the LTE-capable Nexus 7 was a perfect travel companion. It ran Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich and acted more like an over-sized phone than a tablet — but it worked.

The tablet, made by ASUS, was an exceptional piece of hardware, was affordable, and was a best-selling slate for years. Google and ASUS knocked it out of the park with this one. Too bad the same success didn’t follow with the Nexus 9 several years later.

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface Pro X

The Surface is Microsoft’s convertible-cum-slate that is meant to act as a laptop most of the time, but can become a tablet when so desired. Now in its seventh generation, the Surface has clearly been a success. Mobile pros around the world have happily adopted the highly portable form factor.

Microsoft’s Surface family starts at a respectable price point (~$800) and can be ratcheted up to full pro work machine (~$2,000) if so desired. The high-end variants compete with the best laptops from Lenovo, HP, and others. Of course the Surface supports touch and pen input. The Surface Pro X is the latest variant and runs an ARM processor rather than an X86 processor.

The Surface is the most legit and successful iPad competitor to make it to — and remain in — the market.

Amazon Fire Tablet

Best tablets - Amazon Fire 7

Amazon’s Fire tablets have always been about consumption more than anything else. At this point, they all run a fork of Android and heavily favor Amazon-branded apps. The killer feature? The price. These tablets are incredibly affordable and are often sold for less than $100.

For any family invested in the Amazon ecosystem there’s no other real option. The Fire tablets are able to tap into Amazon’s e-book, music, and video services, which makes them natural entertainment fare. Together with the rock-bottom prices, you have an easy stocking stuffer come holiday season.

The Amazon Fire tablet family is the low-cost competitor the iPad needs.

HP Touchpad

hp touchpad large

HP’s webOS-based tablet never actually made it to market, not really anyway. It was announced and then canned — along with webOS and all Palm products — just months later.

While the device many have never fully surfaced, it became a cult hit. HP offered the Touchpad via firesale and the webOS-based tablets were snapped up by tinkerers who were later able to install various updates to the platform before LG bought webOS from HP for use in TVs.

It’s hard to say if the Touchpad could have been webOS’ touchstone product. Too bad HP didn’t give it a chance.

BlackBerry Playbook

blackberry playbook


The BlackBerry Playbook was one of the biggest disasters in the history of the tablet space. Former BlackBerry CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie didn’t want to put the BlackBerry Mobile Services business at risk and thus mandated that the Playbook rely on a nearby BlackBerry smartphone for core functions, including email, contacts, and more. Beyond that, it was slow, buggy, and not powerful enough to do most things.

The Playbook was just one of many missteps that hastened BlackBerry’s eventual demise.

What do you think? What were the best / worst tablets to make it to market, and which were true Apple iPad competitors?

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