By Ethan Handel
iPod. iMac. iPhoto. There’s no denying the cachet that Apple has built around an iconic range of products in the last decade. But if you’re Apple and you want your newest product to be construed as new, what do you name it? Maybe iPad wasn’t the best choice.
Starting with the already belabored point, it comes as no surprise (at least to many, if not the name-creating wizards at Apple) that when three quarters of the product’s name is comprised of “Pad,” some unwanted associations may be unavoidable. As the branding guru Michael Cronan pointed out, “It’s always those kinds of words that are suggestive of feminine menstruation”, and Stephen Colbert surmised that the most likely alternative to the name “iPad” must have been the “TamPod”, with “iPad” narrowly taking the win. This isn’t to say that poorly chosen names haven’t cropped up before: it wasn’t long ago when you could stroll into Ford dealership and buy not only a Mustang or an Explorer, but also…a Probe. Try impressing girls at the bar by telling them about your Probe in the parking lot. Product names matter. Enough said.
To the point though: Does the name really matter?
While some could see the benefit of the iPad’s awkward naming for its unique ability to “enable Twitter users to make the same joke over and over and over again” as The Onion believes, what amounts to a silly connection may just be that: the equivalent of technology tabloid fodder. Many belittle Apple’s nomenclature issues, but the fact that such a discussion has arisen leads one to realize something: Though name is only one ingredient in building a strong brand it can’t be ignored that name can convey not just simple messages, like the name “Pad” being used to describe Apple’s…well…pad-shaped product, but that a name can be important in conveying complex messages.
To say the least, the iPad is full of impressive technology. From the processor bringing more speed and better graphics with less power usage, to the large screen and slick OS, the iPad is interesting for sure. It’s a good piece of kit. But as questions are answered, they are raised just the same: No camera? No multitasking? Do people want a ten inch computer that doesn’t have a keyboard? Shouldn’t it have Flash? Will it eat my lesser technological devices to sustain itself?
Maybe a name that imbued a sense of technological revolution, a sense of mystery, or a sense of innovation would have been more appropriate then. Given that much of the criticism directed towards the iPad has been concerned with the notion that there’s really not much new, a name that could by itself suggest something new would sit better with the public. The iVolution. The iSexy. The iSmooth. Well, not say a better name is easy to come by, but given the resemblance just in name to the ever-present iPod the iPad seems…well…familiar. And familiar doesn’t satiate those immersed in the hype. Furthermore, the name has already been trademarked by Fujitsu in 2002, again bringing a dubious spotlight to the name and maybe unwanted “familiarity” – someone else used the name eight years ago.
One could even suggest a new naming scheme altogether. It feels blasphemous even bringing it up, but it does offer the interesting thought experiment about how crafting a fresh name could reflect that something altogether new had arrived. Considering you can buy an “i”-anything due to other lesser products trying to cash in on Apple’s famous naming convention. Just pick up your nearest Sky Mall to find the ubiquitous “i” in front of every product. Yes, I would love an iWallet to go with my automatic cat food dispenser, thank you. The “i” cachet could be diluted.
In the end, the iPad could be a huge success regardless of name: After all, a truly stellar product will ultimately speak for itself. Anything with an Apple logo may do just fine at this point in time. As Stephen Colbert used his new iPad to present Grammy Award winners on Sunday night, he asked Jay-Z with shock, “Am I cooler than you?!”, and its that Apple “coolness” that may eclipse such a naming foible. Yet since the collective mind still seems undecided about the iPad’s place in the technological world, it could have only benefited to have a name that subtly nudged people to arrive at the desired conclusion: This is different, this is new, and this is not something my girlfriend will need me to pick up at the pharmacy.