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We’re just a day from the iPad’s official release and the media storm has predictably begun. An early set of extremely limited units were given to entertainers like Stephen Colbert and David Letterman, and shows like “Modern Family,” reflecting a new marketing strategy for Apple.

Underlying all this excitement is the fundamental question of what this device will be, what it will do and how people will use it. Colbert joked that it can make salsa, while Letterman, with guest Sam Worthington, played with the idea of a very expensive hot plate for your coffee.

What the Heck Is It?

Much of this is in good fun but also represents a general attitude that the device’s true use cases or “killer apps” are shrouded in question marks. This has included a bit of a tongue-in-cheek “what’s all the fuss about?” attitude from some. We saw a similar response to the iPhone (at first).

But the beauty of these products and how Apple has created them, is that their fate and their “killer apps” are in the hands of legions of third-party developers. So what this device “becomes” hinges on a combination of what they come up with and how users adopt it. These two forces will inspire each other in a feedback loop that will — to put it bluntly — result in some cool s**t.

We’ve predicted some admittedly obvious use cases, like a couch device (movies, books, etc.), or productivity tools for the kitchen, executive assistant, health care and fleet management. Touch screen games and learning tools for young children also come to mind — a huge addressable market.

Now we get an early glimpse, as iTunes has released the current slate of iPad apps in the App Store. Of course you can’t use them until you get your iPad tomorrow, but it’s a good preview. Also smart on Apple’s part to whet users’ appetites with these apps (no pun intended) to move more units.

A Good Start

So this is what we’re starting with. The apps will evolve immensely for the reasons stated above. But there are lots of cool apps there already. What sticks out for me is the Netflix app which lets you not only manage your account but also stream movies over Wi-Fi.

Netflix has an iPhone app but it makes a whole lot more sense on the iPad (bigger screen, battery life and MUCH faster processor). We’ll see this concept play out many times. We’ll also see new uses for old “desktop” products (like eBay), and entirely new companies/ideas that are born out of the device.

Just when I thought it was hard to keep up with the innovation happening on the iPhone and on mobile devices in general. Speaking of which, will the iPad be considered a mobile device, a laptop/netbook/slate computer, or an entirely new category? Probably the latter.

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