What’s in a Name? The New iPad Conundrum

March 9th, 2012

So nearly all of the expectations about the third generation iPad essentially came to pass. The most significant new feature is the Retina Display, followed, perhaps, by LTE support, as if that’ll make much of a difference since most iPad users aren’t apt to want to download huge files; you’d be streaming (rather than downloading) movies, I expect. It’s nice to see Apple add all that stuff, retain decent battery life, and only make it a tiny bit thicker and a tiny bit heavier.

But there is the naming of the product that seems to be subject to endless discussion. One person posted a curious comment on a social networking site that, by calling it “The new iPad,” Apple made a multibillion dollar mistake. Well, it takes all kinds.

Until the iPad (third generation) arrived, the media, and no doubt customers around the world, expected it to be called the iPad 3. That seemed reasonable enough, given how the previous versions of the iPad, and the iPhone, were named as new models appeared. In the days ahead of Wednesday’s media event, some suggested it must be an iPad HD. But Apple boasts that The New iPad actually has a higher resolution than a high-definition TV set, so that label simply doesn’t apply. And in keeping with Apple’s minimalist virtues, calling it the “iPad Retina Display” is a non-starter.

I suppose the best way to understand Apple’s product naming conventions is to look at the company until the second coming of Steve Jobs in the mid-1990s. It had gotten to the point where Apple had so many similarly named products, even the executives couldn’t tell the difference. Indeed, some Mac Performas were named in a certain way that was unique to a single store chain, even though the specs were no different from one bought elsewhere that carried a different model designation.

It made loads of sense for Jobs to kill that policy, and it’s interesting to see most of the other consumer electronics companies still doing the very thing Apple was criticized for back then. But sometimes being simple ends up being complicated. So there’s the iMac, but there have been many models of various shapes and sizes during this all-in-one desktop computer’s nearly 14- year lifetime. After the original pear-shaped design expired, Apple went to a flat panel configuration with an articulated and complex metal stand that rose up from a domed base. The second generation product, however, didn’t do quite as well as the first, and Apple went to a true flat panel, looking for all the world like a traditional computer display with a bit of a weight problem.

Moving from plastic to aluminum, Apple has made the casings slimmer, adding components that have brought performance to the level of a Mac Pro. But it’s still called iMac. About This Mac delivers some additional information, such as the processor speed and the amount of installed RAM. It takes clicking More Info…. to bring up a system profile that presents the full model designation and additional internal specs.

Apple’s current policy is to identify an iMac, and all other Macs for that matter, with the revision date in parenthesis. So the iMac I brought in late 2009 is identified as iMac (Late 2009).

Now today’s iPad is regarded by Apple as a “Post-PC” product, meaning that it intended to be a successor to a traditional personal computer (Mac or PC) in many respects. That the iPad’s sales in the last financial quarter exceeded those reported by any single PC maker, even HP and Dell, clearly demonstrates the success of Apple’s strategy.

So maybe that’s why version three of the iPad is simply iPad, or The new iPad, or just iPad (third generation). You take your choice. I don’t think people are going to want to keep saying “The new iPad” in general conversation.

Imagine me asking Barbara, Mrs. Steinberg, this question: “Honey, where did you put The new iPad?” “Oh, honey, I left The new iPad in the living room.” “Thanks for telling me where to find The new iPad.”

But does that mean we must start calling the iPad 2, “The old iPad,” and the first generation model “The very old iPad”? Or maybe “The ancient iPad? or “The passé iPad”?

All in a name, but you can see where this is heading. What will Apple call the fourth generation model? “The newest iPad”?

How about, simply, the 2012 iPad or iPad ’12? That would immediately convey the year of its release, in the same fashion as the most recent versions of iLife or iWork?

However, I definitely don’t agree with the poster who claimed that Apple made a multibillion dollar mistake. We can stop talking about the thing’s name, can we? That most mean, potentially, billions of dollars of free publicity.

Well, in speaking with Adam Engst, of TidBITS fame, in a segment recorded for the next edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I agreed with him that we just call it the iPad 3 and be done with it. Adam has already begun to follow through on that naming convention. Anyone want to join us?

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14 Responses to “What’s in a Name? The New iPad Conundrum”

  1. Ronin48 says:

    Apple never said the name was “The new iPad”

    It’s just called “iPad”

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  2. Not so. Apple repeatedly refers to the product as “The new iPad” throughout their site, as they did during the media event. Sometimes it’s “the new, third generation iPad.” You can go either way. We’d rather call it iPad 3, to separate it from the 2010 iPad.


  3. fustian says:

    Personally, I think this is about still selling the iPad2. By giving them numerical designations, I think they make the 3 appear much more desirable. By calling them all “iPad”, it turns it into a line of which some are just better and more desirable.

    I imagine a non-technical person approaching the purchase of an iPad and wanting to save money by getting what used to be called an iPad2: “This iPad is faster and has a better screen, but the other iPad only costs $399 and they’re all iPads!”

  4. Ronin48 says:

    Wrong again.

    The word “new” is what’s known as an adjective.

    You will also find “amazing” “third-generation” and other adjectives on Apple’s website preceding the name iPad to describe iPad. These adjectives are not part of the product name.

    It’s like if I said this was an incorrect Tech Night Owl column. The word “incorrect” is not part of the name of the website even though the description is apt.

    The name is iPad.

    I have an Apple Store order acknowledgement to prove it.

    It shows that I order a

    “iPad with Wi-Fi + 4G LTE for AT&T 32GB – Black (3rd generation)
    Delivers on March 16 by Standard Shipping
    Part Number: MD367LL/A”

    You and your column are wrong.

    • @Ronin48, By constantly referring to the product as “The new iPad,” that becomes an alternate designation. You’re just making too much out of it. If you actually read my article, you’d see I didn’t take it too seriously. I know it’s just hype. We’ll continue to call it iPad 3. You can call it anything you want.

      I also see the writers of the online MacUser newsletter (from Macworld) are treating the subject in the same fashion. Witness: “So it’s not the iPad 3 – it’s just ‘the new iPad’. Not so controversial when you consider that we’re not typing this on an iMac 17.”

      Or this commentary from the Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/3-theories-on-the-new-ipad’s-missing–3.html

      And even Time magazine.

      So you’re getting bent out of shape about absolutely nothing. On this weekend’s tech show, we even rag on the silly names used for Android tablets. Get over it.


  5. immovableobject says:

    When the next one comes out in 2013 it will be called “the new iPad”, and 2012’s will be referred to as “the previous iPad” for comparison.

    Keeping the name simple and unchanging hasn’t been too much of an issue with Apple’s other products. There is always a way to be specific if necessary by referring to some unique attribute or year of release.

  6. Ronin48 says:

    If the the frequency of the word immediately preceding “iPad” was how the name was determined then the definite article “the” would more likely be part of the name than the word “new.” This is obvious to most that this is silly. It should be obvious to you as well.

    Citing others who are just as confused or mistaken as you doesn’t correct your error. It doesn’t matter what MacUser newsletter writers think. It doesn’t matter what SmartMoney thinks. Apple alone gets to chose the name for the new product and the name is “iPad.” It’s pretty simple.

    You don’t get to chose what the name of the product is. I’m not sure why you don’t understand that.

    Repeat after me:

    iPad. iPad. iPad.

    Yes it is new. Yes it is amazing. Yes it is thin. Yes it is light. But the name is iPad.

    • @Ronin48, There is no error. That’s the way Apple continues to refer to the product on their site.

      Do the words “get a life” have any meaning to you? Have a nice day, and please waste someone else’s time, OK?

      Oh, and since posting this comment, I’ve heard further from our name-obsessed reader, who clearly can’t let this go. It’s a broken record syndrome, I suppose. He is no longer allowed to comment on this site.


  7. Jay says:

    I agree Gene it is all silly. But you shouldn’t kick these people commenting in the nuts after you spent half of the latest episode of the Tech Night Owl going on and on about this topic. I love your show and never miss an episode, but this topic made the last episode not worth listening. Everyone needs to move on, including you. Please don’t go on and on with this on your show like you did with iTunes Match.

  8. jfutral says:

    I also wonder if they have learned anything from numbering the iPhone as well. Could any of this be to avoid confusion? I remember the articles talking about all the people who think that the iPhone 4 is 4g. And the 3rd generation iPhone was labeled “3g” to associate it with wireless data speeds. Since the new iPad is LTE capable, throwing a number in the name could also create confusion. And no matter how small, Apple hates confusion.

    Just a thought,

    • @jfutral, The numbering of the iPhone is due to the fact that different versions are being sold simultaneously by wireless carriers, and they probably insisted on some sort of clear identification scheme. With the “new” iPad, Apple is going back to their traditional naming scheme, where you have the same name year after year, and the revisions are in labeled parenthesis such as (third generation).


  9. jfutral says:

    Regardless of whether numbering the different iPhones served the carriers (in the US there was only “carrier” well after the iPhone 4 was introduced and there apparently was confusion about iPn4 being 4g), I don’t think either of these ideas (and even some of the others posited) are mutually exclusive and probably together serve as a fair, larger argument in conglomerate. In other words, there were and are a whole lot of good reasons to ditch the number naming for the iPad. I doubt there was s single reason.

    Even with the iPhone at some point the numbering convention is just going to be too cumbersome. For example, the 4s was technically #5, so does that mean the next one will be 6? Or are the 4 and 4s really so similar that they really were the same (giving weight to a lot of the critics) and therefore the next could still be, but confusingly, called iPhone5? I wouldn’t doubt if we see Apple drop numbering from the iPhone next.


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