iPad at 10: Why apps made the iPad a success

It’s hard to believe that January 27 marks the tenth anniversary of the announcement of the iPad. As impressive as that first iPad was in terms of hardware, a decade later it’s clear that the iPad succeeded because of Apple’s focus on native iPad apps from the very first day.

Sit down and lean back

If you go back and watch Steve Jobs’s keynote introducing the iPad, you’ll see the brilliance of Apple’s roll-out strategy. To start it all off, there’s a big comfy chair on stage, something you never see at Apple keynotes. That chair allowed Jobs and other presenters to show that the iPad was a comfortable device meant to be used casually.

steve jobs ipad IDG

Steve Jobs introduces the original iPad.

After revealing of the iPad itself, Jobs sits down and spends a very long time walking the audience through the various bundled apps on the iPad. He’s sending an important message, right from the start: These were apps that we were familiar with from the iPhone, but they’re all bigger and better because they’ve been modified to take advantage of that larger iPad screen. Safari, of course, but also Calendar and iBooks and many others.

In the early days of the iPad, the most cutting criticism of the device was that it was “just a big iPhone.” Apple’s presentation demonstrates that while this is technically true, it misses the point. The iPad was a much larger canvas, and apps that grew to fit the larger canvas were not just bigger, but better.

Prepare for the Gold Rush

In the second part of the presentation, Scott Forstall (then Apple’s software chief) invoked the App Store, which had already become wildly successful after less than two years in operation. It was the App Store’s Gold Rush era, and Forstall’s message was clear: There’s a new Gold Rush coming, and it’s in iPad apps. And if developers wanted their apps to be prominently featured on the App Store for iPad, Forstall pointed out, those apps would need to be updated to support it. iPhone-only apps would run, but they’d do so in a diminished compatibility mode and be relegated to the back pages of the App Store.

The iPad was introduced in January, but it didn’t ship until April—and Apple released tools for developers to build iPad apps the very day the product was announced. The message was clear: Build iPad apps and a flood of users will come your way. You’ve got three months.

scott forestall ipad intro Apple

Scott Forstall talks about the App Store during the iPad introduction.

Forstall was also quick to point out that good iPad apps were more than just blown-up iPad versions. Several compliant developers were brought out to demo how they’d already begun work on reconceptualizing their iPhone apps for a larger screen, including MLB At Bat and the New York Times.

And to top it all off, iWork

With a bunch of built-in apps as examples and an App Store Gold Rush stoking developers, the iPad was already set up for a solid launch. But Apple had one more revelation to make during the launch of the iPad, and it’s one that has had lasting effects on the iPad ever since: The announcement of iWork apps on the iPad.