Forget the name, it's the iPad itself that matters

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Editor’s Note: At Macworld, we love a good debate. And that's what Apple kicked off when it unveiled its latest iPad without a new name—the tablet is simply known as the iPad. Dan Moren argues below that Apple has made the right move. Elsewhere on, Lex Friedman disagrees.

If you spent much time reading the Internet in advance of Wednesday’s Apple event, you probably saw a variety of suggestions bandied about for what Apple might call its next generation iPad: the iPad 3, the iPad HD—perhaps even the iPad 2S. But when Tim Cook took the stage to introduce the device, he called it simply “the new iPad.”

That’s as it should be, if you ask me. Despite somewhat illogically progressing from the iPad to the iPad 2 and now back again to the iPad, the throughline has remained consistent. What’s important is that the device you walk into the Apple Store to buy is the iPad—adding numbers and letters after that only dilutes its identity.

And they summon a sense of déjà vu. Those of us Apple fans who were around in the ’90s suffered through a barrage of incomprehensible product names: the Macintosh Quadra 660AV; the Macintosh Performa 6300CD; the Power Macintosh 6300/160. Not to mention dozens of others, before we even include the many Mac clones created by third parties. It was a proliferation predicated on the way that Apple’s competitors did business—and still do, if the HP Omni 220 Quad series is any indication.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he simplified the company’s personal computer product lines to just four categories: consumer desktop, consumer laptop, pro desktop, pro laptop—the iMac, iBook, Power Mac, and PowerBook, respectively. It was a subtle move compared to more radical changes like the eye-popping design of the company’s new products, but no less important. It paved the way for the Apple products of the last decade; even as those product names shifted, the basic structure remained the same.

It seems only logical that Apple wants to avoid the slippery slope of its competitors’s terrifying product names, where exaggeration is piled on top of numbers piled on top of hyperbolic references. I mean, how many people do you really think walk into a store and say “Hello, I’d like to purchase a Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch.” With a straight face, anyway.

When it comes to Apple’s iPad naming scheme, perhaps the best example to look to is the iPod. The company introduced the first version of its digital music player in 2001, and while subsequent models refined and altered aspects of the device, it largely remained “the iPod.” (There are exceptions, of course: The fourth-generation model was referred to variously as the iPod photo and the iPod color; the current is laden with the “iPod classic” moniker.)

Along the way, Apple spun off different types of iPods—the iPod mini, the iPod nano, the iPod shuffle—but each of those were distinct from the original iPod. To use another example, the iMac and the Mac mini might both be Macs, but nobody’s likely to confuse one with the other.

Quick—which version of the iPod touch is this?

The iPod touch is an even better precedent. Released in 2007, and updated every year since, the device has always been known simply as “the iPod touch.” To distinguish the models, Apple has, behind the scenes, followed the nomenclature of the iPod, referring to them as the first-, second-, third-, and fourth-generation iPod touches. It’s a simple way to keep them straight, without having to resort to playing the silly game of branding one-upmanship.

By comparison, the iPhone naming scheme—iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S—looks inane. Every subsequent iteration has not only tacked on a new suffix to the iPhone brand, they’ve also each introduced an entirely new expectation of how that sequence will progress—only to throw it from the train in the very next version. It’s as if the company rolled out the iPhone 1, followed by the iPhone A, followed by the iPhone I. What exactly comes next in that sequence?

Constantly reinventing a nomenclature is unsustainable. Is every iPad between now and 2022 going to have a different number, letter, or some combination appended? Is Apple going to eventually reach the iPad 13GS+ Extreme? I’d argue that’s exactly what the company doesn’t want.

Not that the lack of a label doesn’t provide its own challenges. Will Apple call the next version “The new new iPad?” “The newest iPad yet?” But I don’t think that matters. After all, if there’s one thing the company doesn't have trouble with, it’s marketing products.

The bottom line: Ask your average consumer what kind of iPhone they own and chances are their answer will be “The white one.” In the same way that those users don’t care about processor speeds, amount of RAM, or how many G’s of networking they have, they don’t necessarily care about what version of an iPad they have—all that they care is that they have an iPad. And that’s good enough for Apple.

[Dan Moren is a senior associate editor for Macworld.]

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