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The iPad Is a Runaway Hit, But Will It Last?

iPads are the fastest-selling electronic devices ever, beating out stiff competition such as DVD players and iPods to move 4.5 million units every three months, according to a study by Bernstein Research.

At this rate, the iPad could become the fourth-top consumer electronics category--following televisions, smartphones, and notebook computers--provided Apple can unload millions of units per month. Apple definitely has a plan to do that by selling the iPads at retail behemoth Target along with Best Buy.

The 4.5 million units could seem high, but other analysts estimate Apple's sales numbers ranging from a low of 3 million to a high of 6 million for the third quarter, according to Forbes. Whether this would change findings by Bernstein Research is unknown, but it certainly puts such a dramatic statement into perspective.

The news comes at a strange time for Apple, especially since Android is being touted as the smartphone operating system to beat, and the Apple iOS, which runs on both iPhones and the iPad, may fall behind.

The constant search for an "iPad killer" and the sheer multitude of tablet computers launching in the next 18 months should make Apple aware that its competition is fierce and will only become tougher.

However, Apple has some things its competition may not:

Customer satisfaction: Surveys say that iPad (and iPhone) customers are satisfied with their purchase. Perhaps they bought it because they love Apple, heard about it from a friend, or because it was truly intuitive--but either way, the end result means they are happy they bought it.

Cost: Although the iPad doesn’t seem cheap at $499 and up, it's often cheaper than the alternative. The Dell Streak, a tweener device that's a cross between a smartphone and a tablet computer, appears to cost more with or without a contract, and Samsung still hasn't revealed all its pricing plans for the Galaxy Tab. Add that Target stores are giving a 5 percent discount for using their credit card, so buying the iPad there is looking more like a bargain.

Innovation: While Apple has been known for being a visionary in the tech industry, now it can't rest on its laurels. Not only must Apple keep innovating with the iPad, but it also must constantly tweak and keep up demand for its iOS and iPhone. The iPad, if Apple plans to keep making inroads into the business market, must keep its operating system business and IT-friendly by creating a real back-end infrastructure to keep networks safe and secure. Once Apple can do this, its place in business is set.

As long as Apple continues to innovate wisely, keep costs down, and make customers happy, it will continue to enjoy a long reign with the iPad. However, unless the company decides to pursue business customers seriously by providing good IT alternatives for its iOS, Apple could lose out to a future competitor.

Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter: @bhern.

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