Comparing the 2024 13-inch iPad Pro to the 2010 original iPad

Steve Jobs demonstrating the original iPad

It’s still a sheet of glass, has no serious competitors, and uses radically different technology as you’d expect for a product more than a decade old, but the 2024 iPad still conforms to Steve Jobs’ original vision for the product.

There is an argument that the new iPad Air and iPad Pro models are merely spec-bump ones, that they are the same as ever, just a bit faster. That does ignore the new screens, or at least the larger one that’s been brought to the iPad Air for the first time.

It’s not an unreasonable criticism, though, until you look back. Comparing the new 13-inch iPad Pro to the iPad Steve Jobs so proudly showed off at the original launch is eye-opening.

Apple gets wide-eyed

But looking back now, one thing that is oddly striking about Apple’s original promotion for the iPad is that it does show people being wide-eyed. During an 8-minute hymn of praise for the iPad, Jony Ive has his own wide-eyed moment of genuine delight at what Apple had managed to do.

Oddly, Scott Forstall has the same look but he manages to maintain it for practically every shot.

“You know, it’s true, when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical,” said Jony Ive, then Apple’s chief designer. “And that’s exactly what the iPad is… It’s hard to see how something so simple, so thin and so light could possibly be so capable.”

Back then, every word of that was true and the first time you picked up an iPad, you felt its lightness, you marvelled at the thinness. You did also think it seemed rather smaller than you were expecting, yet after a few minutes of use, you forgot that and became as immersed in using it as Steve Jobs kept promising.

Scott Forstall enthusing about the iPad in 2010

Scott Forstall enthusing about the iPad in 2010

Pick up that original iPad now, though, and everything tech- and design-wise is different. Forget specifications for a moment, just the feel is different.

For one thing, it seems peculiarly heavy now and somehow that weight feels concentrated, like it’s heavier than it should be. Plus you again have the impression that the screen is small, but this time that feeling does not go away so easily.

That’s perhaps partly because the bezels around the screen now seem so large as to be practically comical.

“The reason why this product responds so well and you really feel the performance of it is because of the custom silicon that we designed for this product,” said Bob Mansfield, then senior vice president of hardware. “That silicon is called A4, and it’s really built by our hardware team in concert with our software team.”

“And what that gives you is a level of performance that you can’t achieve any other way,” he continued. “It also gives you the efficiency to achieve a battery that lasts all day long.”

Today, the original iPad does seem slow, but also just like it can’t do much, you can’t do much with it. The slowness is noticeable, but the iPad of 2010 doesn’t need to be much faster because nobody’s going to be running Final Cut Pro on it.

Top of the range specifications then and now

Take that “level of performance that you can’t achieve any other way.” It’s hard to truly gauge the speed difference between iPads based on different processors, but there are some comparisons you can easily make.

Such as how the Apple A4 processor in the original iPad was a single-core one, while the new M4 iPad Pro has 10 CPU cores and 10 GPU ones — – not to mention a Neural Engine. Then the new M4 is built on a 3 nanometer process, where the A4 used a 45 nanometer one.

Certain details of the A4 are now curiously hard to establish, but a couple of sources around the time said it had 149 million transistors. The M4 has 28 billion transistors.

As different as the details are, these specifications are actually the same — they are the best possible in their time.

Two Apple iPads showcased with one displaying the calendar app and another showing a news website.

The original iPad on Apple’s website in 2010

Specifications you can feel

Then there’s that “so thin and so light” comment of Jony Ive’s. The original iPad weighed 1.5lbs while the new 13-inch iPad Pro is 1.28lbs.

That doesn’t sound like as much of a progression as every other specification, except that it is. For that original iPad was a concentrated 9.56 inches by 7.47 inches, while the new one is 11.09 inches by 8.48 inches.

So the weight is spread out over a much bigger size, which then seems all the greater because comparatively little of the new iPad Pro’s front is taken up with bezels.

Then there’s also the width. The new 13-inch iPad Pro is 0.2 inches where the original was 0.5 inches.

That’s a difference you really feel as the original now seems bulbous. On the other hand, the new one feels breakable. And, we’re sure that breathless YouTube videos with little scientific rigor doing just that are coming very soon.

The iPad as a consumption device

Contrary to Jobs’ original portrayal of the iPad as an all-purpose tool, the original iPad was so strongly criticized after release for being a device only for consuming media rather than creating anything, that the criticism persists to this day. That’s despite Apple’s own “Let Loose” launch event video being created and edited at least in part on iPads.

Person edits a rock climbing documentary on a tablet with climbing gear nearby.

Final Cut Pro 2 on a new iPad Pro

Even though today you could still want iPads to do more — such as allowing round-trip editing for Final Cut Pro between iPads and Macs — it’s true that the original model was markedly more limited.

For a start, the original iPad had no cameras. None at all. The new 13-inch iPad Pro has a 12MP wide camera on the rear, plus an Ultra Wide 12MP camera with Center Stage on the front.

Then while you could always watch video on the iPad, with the new 13-inch iPad Pro you’re going to be able to watch four videos being simultaneously streamed live from iPhones or other iPads.

Plus what you’re watching will look unimaginably better than it did. That 9.7-inch LED backlit display on the 2010 iPad had 132dpi and a resolution of 1024×768 pixels.

You know where this is going. The 13-inch iPad Pro’s Ultra Retina XDR is 264dpi with 2420×1668 pixel resolution.

But Apple did quote 10-hours battery life for that original iPad — and it says exactly the same for the 13-inch iPad Pro. Some things never change.

Except perhaps the headphone jack, which the original iPad had and the new one does not.

And the price. The base Wi-Fi-only model of the new 13-inch iPad Pro is $1,299 where the original iPad was $499.

Although in 2024’s money, that’s approximately equal to $715. For that, you could today get an 11-inch iPad Air and have $116 left over to put toward a Magic Keyboard.

Still the same concept

Taking a clear swipe at the under-powered netbooks of the day, Steve Jobs famously positioned the iPad as being a “third category of device,” one that fit between the smartphone and the laptop. It had to better at email, web browsing, and reading.

“If there’s going to be a third category of device, it’s going to have to be better at these kinds of tasks than a laptop or a smartphone,” he said. “Otherwise it has no reason for being.”

But Jobs later went further and said that devices like the iPad would replace PCs, including Macs. More than a decade after he said that, he’s partially right.

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farms,” he said later in 2010. “PCs are going to be like trucks…they are still going to be around [but only] one out of X people will need them.”

He wisely didn’t define the variable X.

Today, sales figures show that the iPad sells in roughly the same numbers as the Mac he thought it would replace. But looking around at what the iPad is being used for, and where, and it’s hard not to think he was right about the future.

The iPad may have begun as a third category of device. By sticking to its original concept, it has ceased to be an adjunct to the iPhone and the MacBook Pro.

Instead, for so many users, including our own Wesley Hilliard, it has become capable enough to be their main computing device.

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