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What’s in a Name? The New iPad Conundrum

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?