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Is the iPad now Band-Aid strong?

Many people seem to believe that the only tablet that exists is the iPad. Does this make it easier for Apple to make smaller versions? Or even larger ones?

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Today, on Hugh Hefner's 86th birthday, brand dominance comes to mind.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press declared that the iPad is the "only tablet people know."

I am not sure many people needed the Associated Press to tell them that. They need only look at their robot-eyed children, their tipsy aunties, their nosy neighbors, and especially the haggard, swollen-faced travelers at airports to appreciate that Apple's little helper is the only helper in town.

Indeed, have you ever even seen someone using another tablet? Have you ever even had anyone sidle up to you and declare that their Samsung/HP/RIM tablet is the panacea to all your media consumption needs?

Naturally, this led some to speculate to the AP that "iPad" will become as generic a name as "Kleenex" or "Band-Aid" or, um, "country music."

Some, though, might wonder whether Apple -- some time ago -- realized that the iPad is now as dominant as its iPod. The clue came in the launch of the new iPad. As many scratched their eyebrows wondering why it wasn't called "iPad 3," "iPad HD," or 'iPad SexyLegs," Apple sent a little signal by merely calling it "the new iPad."

It was surely placing a little smooth asphalt on the road before one or more variants would sail into public consciousness. Yes, just like the iPod.

It seems most people believe, for example, that there will be a smaller iPad. Yes, one that would defy even Steve Jobs' alleged dictum that "7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper so users can file down their fingers." (Which was a little odd anyway, as not many filed down their fingers to use, say, an iPhone.)

But when you think about how the iPod brand was expanded to Nanos, Shuffles, Minis and Touches, something similar might happen with the iPad.

Yes, everyone seems certain there will be an iPad Mini. Indeed, here's a typical headline: "Analyst: Smaller iPads coming next year." Oh, wait, that's from April 2010.

But, in order to establish an even greater level of personal satisfaction, Apple might be considering a whole range of potential versions: different colors, for example, and different technical capabilities.

And why not even an iPad Maxi? You might imagine most would find this pointless and unwieldy. I might find you more than a few who simply like everything to be bigger.

It isn't merely that people will become bored when they see that everyone has the usual, straight-laced, albeit new iPad.

It's that Apple has to be prepared for no real competitor to challenge its dominance. Yes, there's the Kindle Fire, which is far more influential than, say, the Zune. And there may well be a Google 7-incher coming in the summer.

But the one thing both these brands usually lack is imagination.

If Apple can find inspired ways to satisfy segments of its market -- such as teens or even little kids -- who currently don't see options elsewhere, it will be able to dominate in the longer term. These humans of tomorrow don't really want to be seen with the same thing as pops and mops. What they do want are machines that they feel are theirs.

Their pops and mops don't understand them. But if Apple can show it does, this could be a large and joyous vein.

Apple is surely imagining all of the different micro-uses to which some sort of iPad can be put, so that a family, a couple, or even one individual will feel they "need" not just one iPad, but two or three. Different ones, you understand. Because we're all individuals at heart, aren't we? Well, in America anyway.

The progression of the iPad might follow that of the dominant iPod, which seemed to follow that of, well, shoes.

Shoes are useful, but they're also a fashion statement. The iPad's next steps will surely be not only to fill out the potential uses, but also to cater to a few more emotional states.

Yes, it will all be perfectly tasteful and clever -- as it was with the iPod. It is Apple's sense of design (in its broadest meaning) that can truly give it a longevity of dominance.