Why "the new iPad" is a terrible name

During Apple's new iPad event yesterday, I (among others) were waiting for the other shoe to drop: what are they going to name the new iPad? From the get-go, it was being only being referred to as "the new iPad". It was easy to sit through the various demos hanging my hat on the idea that Apple was being coy and would close things off with some flashy video with a big reveal punctuated by a snappy one-liner. "iPad 3 - we just revolutionized magic. Again." "iPad HD - your TV won't know what hit it." But one by one, we watched the new iPad apps come and go, until the event wrapped up with a colourful remix of Apple's classic logo and no further mention of the name was made.

Huh. I guess they're just calling it "the new iPad."

Scouring through the updated content posted on Apple's site, we have at best a mention to the "3rd.-generation iPad," but nothing so official as to imagine another name on the box. Once the reality started setting in, the scenarios for confusion rushed in a flood: would we still be calling it "the new iPad" in eight months? Would we have to qualify the name on our own terms, outside the blessing of Apple's marketing department, and if so, how consistent could that naming be? Will Apple drop "the new" from the website branding soon and leave us with just "iPad"? There are too many questions that are being raised just by a name; Apple has a reputation for being simple, but going this far is just obtuse.

I'm still having trouble understanding why Apple would even bother going this route. Sure, it streamlines things so consumers aren't overloaded with options. In theory, a mainstream shopper could walk into an Apple store, hold out their hand, and say "I want an iPad" and there wouldn't need to be any additional discussion because for all intents and purposes, there's only one iPad. Unfortunately, it won't work out that way because Apple will be selling the last generation for at least awhile. And the old generation is called "iPad 2".

The one with the number 2 on it is older, cheaper, and not as good as the one without the number 2 on it. That's more confusing than a Star Wars prequel.

After the iPad 2 is phased out, "the new iPad" will have a successor. If "the new iPad" is also kept around at a lower price, how then will Apple differentiate? How will customers tell them apart on the shelves? Unless Apple brings down the hammer and wipes out all of the old stock and replaces it with the newest models, nameless iPads are bound to cause a lot of confusion.

Sure, Apple has done this for years with Macs. The latest MacBook Air isn't MacBook Air 4, it's just MacBook Air. And Apple didn't keep the backlight-free MacBook Air 3, or the old design MacBook Air 2 on the shelves at a reduced price along with it.

Apple hasn't numbered iPods historically either. Then again, when Steve Jobs introduced the new iPod touch back in September 2010, he called it "the new iPod touch" but it wasn't branded that way on the keynote slides behind him like "the new iPad" was for Tim Cook.

Beyond sheer logistics, there's a nice continuity and narrative that sequential naming provides. The iPhone lineup has struck a nice rhythm with S-level iterative updates interspersing the big launches. You can put each and every iPhone on a timeline, and it makes sense. The iPad is now only three generations in and the ongoing story is getting muddled. In two years, having "the new iPad" in the middle of the timeline is going to look weird, especially if the next one returns to naming convention, even one as simple as "iPad 4". Even OS X has had solid delineation between between updates, even though it stopped numerical changes in branding years ago.

Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing was quoted yesterday as saying Apple chose to go with "the new iPad" so as to not be predictable. That's not a typical Apple answer, so it's possible Schiller was being coy. Their marketing is usually as incredibly focused and on point as their products. "Not being something" is different and less powerful than "being something".

Luckily, this naming mess is the only sour point in Apple's new product; the new iPad has LTE, a quad-core graphics processor, and a Retina display, which is all anyone really wanted. Yeah, NFC might have been nice, but it's far from a dealbreaker, and most of the other rumoured features, like electro-static feedback, were pretty far-fetched anyway. And who knows? Maybe Apple's marketing department couldn't settle on a name for the event, and are postponing the official branding for the launch next week. Then again, that's probably just wishful thinking on my part.

[Leanna disagrees with Simon completely and will be presenting a counter-editorial shortly - Ed.]

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.