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Wherefore art thou 'iPad'?

March 28, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • The name of Apple's newest iPad leaves some stumbling to describe it.
The name of Apple's newest iPad leaves some stumbling to describe… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

What's in a name? That which we call an iPad -- or iPad 3, new iPad, iPad HD, iPad the third, or iPad: the next generation -- by any of those names would still be as sweet. Confusion, in fact, is what's in this name.

The simply named product has many people stumbling over what to call it to differentiate it from its predecessors. For months ahead of the new iPad's unveiling, the product had been dubbed iPad 3 or iPad HD by media and bloggers.

This isn't the first time a next-gen iDevice caused some descriptive challenges. The iPhone 3G, named for the cellular technology it featured, was actually the second iteration of the iPhone. People kept calling it the third iPhone. (The iPhone 3GS really was the third one. Confused yet?)

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of global marketing, offered this explanation for the "just call me iPad" approach: ”Because we don’t want to be predictable.”

OK, unpredictable, yes, we get it. But it's also a bit indistinguishable. And what about the next "new iPad?" And does this mean there will be no iPhone 5 -- at least in name? (The next one really would be the sixth iteration, with the iPhone 4S as number five.)

GigaOm suggested that the move was a profound embracing of evolution. "Apple is acknowledging that we have arrived in a post-PC world, where iPads aren’t just niche products for gadget lovers with an eye for specs and revision numbers," wrote Janko Roettgers. 

I'm not so sure it's all that profound. It's certainly a potential cost-saver. Think about how much less they could spend on marketing. No need to change the billboards and in-store displays. Heck, they haven't bothered to shift from iPad 2 yet, despite the new iPad's release.

[Updated at 4:25 p.m. March 28: Ira Kalb, marketing professor at USC's Marshall School of Business, said Apple might have been trying to "think different," as their old slogan went. "They wanted to be a little different and get some media attention," he surmised. Besides, he said, "people will know they are looking for a new version of the iPad when it comes out."

Also, this approach follows the convention of how they name their computers, Kalb said, and the iPad is a handheld computer. Their desktops and laptops don't use numbers.]

Ah, but maybe it's all part of a larger strategy. Northwestern University professor of marketing Alexander Chernev wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek that it may be part of Apple's plan to release a lower-cost device -- the iPad Mini.

"This line of reasoning is consistent with Apple’s decision to keep the lower-priced iPad 2 on the market," he wrote. "It could also explain Apple’s reluctance to provide a cohesive story for the new iPad’s naming decision, since stating the real reason for dropping the number would reveal Apple’s future product line and competitive strategy."

Of course, there's also the emperor-has-no-clothes line of thinking. Branding strategist Rob Frankel of Los Angeles said everyone is assuming there was a great deal of brainstorming, discussion and hand-wringing leading to the naming decision. "What if there was no thought?" he asked. "That's a hugely prevalent force in marketing today."

He attributes this move, actually, to a devolution of a "fashion brand" that is shirking its marketing duties. "This is the kind of thing you never would have seen if Steve Jobs had released the third iPad."

Then again, Frankel notes, "they could have called it 'Irving' " and it would have sold.

In fact, Frankel says, oh-so-cool Apple is in transition and in danger of becoming "the Microsoft of cool."  I won't touch that, but will let that marinate a bit.

If I were charged with naming the new device, I might have looked to movies with multiple sequels for inspiration, like "The Matrix": Something like "iPad Resolutions" doesn't have a bad ring to it.

So simply "new iPad" it is. Come to think of it, it is less complicated than Apple's numbering convention. We've come a long way from thinking "iPad" seemed like a strange choice.

RELATED:

What's coming on iPhone 5?

Gripes about new iPad: The list goes on

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