2010 Year in Review: The iPad makes online video cool, opened up a 4th screen

When Apple's iPad hit the shelves in April, it already had been one of the most-written-about devices ever launched. Commentators who hadn't seen one raved about what it could do, those that had seen it leaked details that sounded too good to be true. Of course there were more than a few detractors, critics who said its inability--choice, actually--to not support Flash video was the first nail in its coffin and that browsing the Internet would be a frustrating experience because of all the blank spaces that would show up where Flash-supported content wouldn't appear. Some critics claimed that it was too big while others claimed it was too small.

Turns out that, for once, the Apple fans actually may have undersold the appeal of the device.

Not only has it seen remarkable sales--it owned the tablet category in 2010 and analysts say it's on track to do the same in 2011--but it's had a positive impact on the online video segment as well and accelerated the development of HTML5 as video-hungry users turn increasingly to their iPads to consume everything from YouTube clips to TV episodes to movies. And there's more in store as content providers, pay-TV operators, broadcasters and even start ups like online cable provider ivi TV look for ways to roll out apps on the iPad.

Netflix and ABC both were onboard as soon as the iPad launched, and it's a safe bet that a lot of the first video streamed to the tablet was through one of those two apps.

The tablet quickly became home to apps from all the major sports leagues--you can, for instance, watch any NFL game if you're a subscriber to DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket--and one-time events from sports bodies like the PGA and U.S. Tennis Association also have jumped onto the 10-inch screen. In 2011, there's likely to be an awful lot of the NCAA's March Madness college basketball championships showing up on the iPad as well.

Apple's iPad is, arguably, the biggest story of 2010; it launched a new category of mobile viewing devices, became a category killer overnight. It made Apple millions of dollars as one of the hottest selling tech releases in history; some 3 million units sold in the first 80 days on the market, most likely surprising even Apple CEO Steve Jobs with its success.

The device made watching a movie or TV show on a small screen enjoyable again, pushing bigger screens, at least for the moment, to the background.

For the online video industry, the iPad provided another revenue stream in 2010 as online video platforms, encoding companies and content delivery networks all saw a bump from the new traffic it created.