No. 3: iPad

After years of speculation and rumors about Apple’s work on a tablet device, CEO Steve Jobs finally presented the “magical and revolutionaryiPad to the world in January. Jokes about the name hit the Web, sending “iTampon” soaring as a Twitter trending topic. But the mocking faded as our fascination with Apple’s newest product took hold.

Early talk swirled about what the device would mean for traditional print media, the general consensus being that it might rescue an industry struggling to survive the recession and to stay relevant in the digital age. Within a day of Jobs’s announcement, bloggers were predicting that it would kill the Kindle and other e-readers. The word spread that the iPad would do for books, magazines, and newspapers what iTunes had done for the music industry. Publishers evidently agreed, as they rushed to strike content deals and heralded the device as a game-changer.

Promises of apps for major publications surfaced, including for the New York Times and select Conde Nast magazines. Then came news that the iPad would end the honeymoon between book publishers and the Kindle. The product wasn’t even on shelves yet, but the race was on, with developers rushing to create full-sized apps for a device that most people had never even held.

The launch date (“iPad Day“) was announced, and soon after reports of shortages. More than 300,000 devices were sold on the first day, and more than half a million had sold by mid-April, forcing Apple to delay the international launch to catch up with demand. The 3G model was released in a second phase a few weeks later, to further shortages and delays.

In June, AT&T discovered a security leak on its website that had exposed the email addresses of more than 114,000 iPad users, including those of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The news spread quickly, and an FBI investigation was launched.

But nothing slowed sales of Jobs’ “magical” device. Through October 2010, an estimated 8 million iPads have sold worldwide, making its adoption rate the fastest ever for a gadget, surpassing the rates of the original iPhone and the DVD player. The numbers are nearly double those of its largest competitor, Amazon’s Kindle.

So, has the iPad saved print? Not yet. Publishers have clashed with Apple about a variety of issues, including a refusal to support Adobe Flash, and disagreements about how subscriber information is collected and shared. Magazine sales on the iPad were hardly the holy grail publishers had hoped for, but publishers remain optimistic that a solution will be found. Even media magnate Rupert Murdoch, with rumored help from Apple engineers, developed a newspaper for the iPad, due out early 2011.

As Apple loosens its grip in other arenas, it seems likely that publishers will eventually win some leverage as well. In fall, the company announced that Verizon would sell iPads and offer data plans, allowing users a choice in carriers for the first time since AT&T became the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in 2007. And despite Jobs’s well-publicized feelings about Flash, users now have a workaround for the iPad: SkyFire, which hit the app store in November and “sold out” within hours when demand exceeded bandwidth.

Based on the immense success of the tablet, Apple announced the launch of a Mac App Store and invited developers to submit iPad-style apps to operate on Mac computers. Experts speculate that the iPad may become a laptop killer. It looks like Apple is on track to reinvent itself once again, to keep competitive against … itself.

–Melissa O’Neil