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Yes, Folks, the iPad is an Icon

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.