Yes, Folks, the iPad is an Icon

October 6th, 2010

It has been hard to match the success of the iPod over the years largely because the product has become a cultural icon. When you think of digital media players, the iPod has almost always been a verb, in the same fashion as, perhaps, Photoshop. No competitor can compete with that, even as the product line no longer delivers large unit sales gains year over year.

When it comes to the iPad, it appears that the “killers” are also having trouble leaving the starting gate, and none appear to possess sensible marketing or design.

Now there’s a story that the iPad is has already attained the highest adoption rate, ever, of a consumer electronics gadget, even surpassing the DVD player, according to Bernstein Research. In a Behind the Money report from CNBC, Colin McGranahan, retail analyst at Bernstein Research, states: “By any account, the iPad is a runaway success of unprecedented proportion.”

The firm is basing that statement on the fact that some three million units were sold during the first 80 days, and an estimated 4.5 million units during the just-completed quarter. Of course, we won’t know the real figures for that quarter until Apple releases its financials later this month. Everything else is guesswork, and the pundits and analysts have a long history of underestimating Apple.

For 2011, the sales estimates are in the 21 million range, but again, there’s no certainty how things will play out, since that number represents a little over five million units per quarter, hardly a stretch based on the iPad’s performance so far this year, just as it begins to spread to more and more dealers.

But the real evidence that the iPad has become iconic is not its sales success. If that was true, you could regard the PC boxes from such companies as Dell and HP as iconic, when they are just commodities.

Instead, consider how the iPad is already regarded in popular culture, and certainly Apple’s product placement initiatives have to be credited with the ubiquity of their gear on movies and TV show.

Sometimes they even become part of the plot line.

You can go back to such movies as “Independence Day” and “Mission Impossible,” where the PowerBook of the 1990s was prominently featured. In the former, a PowerBook actually saved the planet by hacking the control center of an alien mothership. And, no, I won’t get into the impossibility of one of our computers somehow communicating with one of theirs. ET must be incredibly stupid!

Now in a recent episode of the TV procedural drama, “CSI: NY,” several iPads owned by a young woman who was killed off early in the show, became part of the crime scene investigation. Towards the end of the show, you almost began to believe that Apple’s corporate communications people actually contributed some of the dialog, as the iPad was touted as one of our great tech gadgets.

In another sequence, one of the show’s lead characters remarks how her young daughter knows more about the iPhone than she does. Why would that mean anything, other than to once again reveal the importance of an Apple gadget in the unfolding plot?

However, the handheld device used to display photos was definitely no iPad, or maybe the producers haven’t considered adding them to an investigator’s inventory. Or maybe they realize that the New York City Police, the department portrayed in the show, doesn’t sport such advanced gear, and artistic license might be taking things too far.

This is the first time I’ve seen an iPad play a prominent role in a TV show. I’m sure there might be others, since I can’t claim to be a real TV junkie. On the other hand, I have yet to see Hugh Laurie, who plays the title role in “House,” carrying around an iPad during his hospital rounds. The presence of iPads in medical surroundings seems a supremely logical concept. Yes, Dr. House does have a MacBook Pro.

More to the point, I’m curious to see how quickly iPads spread to other TV shows, and I don’t expect it to take very long.

But consider the plight of the rest of the PC industry. When has a Dell or HP ever been mentioned in the dialog, even if their products are visible on a set? The answer is, of course, that they are background commodities and hardly worth any more attention than a washing machine or a refrigerator, neither of which are regarded as icons either.

None of this means that the iPad will sell 21 million copies next year or more, nor how successful it’ll be in the years to come. But when a new gadget becomes part of the script of a TV show just a few months after its release, few would disagree that the potential for success is positively huge.

Even if the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab becomes reasonably popular, you won’t hear anyone talking about their Galaxy Tab on hit shows or blockbuster movies. Such things don’t happen, and this is where Apple has the advantage. Besides, it looks more and more to me that the so-called iPad killers, however good they might be, are fated to be also-rans in the tablet marketplace.

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7 Responses to “Yes, Folks, the iPad is an Icon”

  1. dfs says:

    Funny, after reading this piece I went to the den and watched the latest episode of NICS, and there was Abby using an iPad and we were shown a tight closeup of DiNozzo’s iPhone. Yes, Apple is masterful at product placement, especially in shows that appeal the typical demographics of its customers. My all-time fave was a commercial for, I think, Volvo, showing a guy working at an iMac who starts using his mouse to click on and drag things in the real world outside his window. Wow, product placement of one product within an ad for another! I’ve never seen such a thing before.

  2. boombah says:

    Don’t forget Modern Family had an entire episode focused on a character wanting to get an iPad on launch day for his birthday. This was probably the first tv show flashing an iPad.

  3. John says:

    iPad sales may be hitting 3M a month by the end of the year. That would portend sales of about 40M next year, not counting on a boost from the iPad gen2 and release to more countries.

    It is worth thinking about those numbers for a moment.

    A million is a big number. The population of San Francisco is less than a million. The population of Alaska is less than a million. And Apple sells 2 or 3 million a month.

  4. steffenjobbs says:

    It’s funny, though, that there are people who live in large cities and say they’ve never seen anyone with an iPad. How amazing is that? I’d say there’s a possibility they might keep them hidden when going out in public. In NYC, passengers are cautioned never to display anything on public transportation that might be tempting to thieves. I’ve seen people using iPads, but since there are four Apple Stores in Manhattan, I sort of expect I’d see a few around on warm days or at some sidewalk bistro.

    Anyway, Apple has seemingly set out to completely change the face of computing with the iPad. It’s probably 2010 incarnation of the Palm PDA or whatever people used to carry to keep information. I think the iPad is going to take over a lot of industries at once. I hope it’s at the expense of Windows computers. I’d like to see Windows market share shrink a bit more. I’m willing to bet that the iPad 2.0 will be able to sway a lot of consumers by using a smaller form factor. I think the 9.7″ iPad is a nice size, but I’d be just as happy with a smaller tablet with more capabilities such as the Galaxy Tab. I like that augmented reality stuff which I’m sure the iPad 2.0 will feature. If Apple were to sell 45 million units in 2011 what would those idiots that said the iPad would be a flop say to themselves. I feel it’s possible for Apple to sell that many on a global scale if Apple can keep the price below $800. I’m sure a lot of businesses and schools around the world will be using them. Whatever. We’ll see when the time comes if I’m just blowing smoke out my butt due to fanboi enthusiasm. I’m a long-term Apple shareholder and I hope the sky is the limit for the iPad and Apple shares.

  5. Russ says:

    Funny – I used to be a big fan of CSI NY but I haven’t watched one since they ruined it as a way to sell more iPads

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