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  • 03.08.12

Forget The iPad 3: The Smart Branding Move Behind Apple’s “New iPad”

With the new iPad, Apple brings its elegant approach to naming conventions.

Forget The iPad 3: The Smart Branding Move Behind Apple’s “New iPad”

The technorati had spoken: Apple would christen its latest tablet the “iPad 3.” Definitely. Er, rather, the “iPad HD.” Yes, this would be its name, for certain.

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But when CEO Tim Cook took the stage Wednesday at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center, he unveiled neither the iPad 3 or HD, product name predictions that now sit alongside the iPhone 5 and iSlate. Instead, Cook and a gaggle of Apple execs showed off the “new iPad,” the third and most powerful generation of Apple tablets yet. The “new iPad” is not a description–it’s the actual device name, an ultra-simplified branding solution that nixes numbers, specs, and nicknames in favor of a more human way to list Apple’s latest product on the market.

Apple has long been famous for its stripped-down product line, which Steve Jobs first introduced in the late 1990s, when he focused the company on two types of products: a desktop and laptop for consumers and professionals. “When we got to the company a year ago, there were a lot of products–15 product platforms with a zillion variants of each one,” Steve Jobs said at MacWorld in 1998. “I couldn’t even figure this out myself, after about three weeks: How are we going to explain this to others when we don’t even know which products to recommend to our friends?”

The “new iPad” represents another step forward in simplifying Apple’s product line. Rather than call it the iPad 3 or HD, to fit in with Apple’s increasingly wider array of products–the iPad 2, iPhone 4S/4/3S/3, Mac OS X Mountain Lion/Lion/Snow Leopard, iOS 5.1, iPod Touch/Nano/Classic/Shuffle, the list goes on–customers can walk into any Apple store, and simply say, “I want the new iPad.”

It’s an incredibly simple solution to a problem that’s plagued OEMs for decades. For whatever reason, manufacturers have never learned to escape the complicated jargon and numbers associated with their complicated product lines. Been to a PC retail website recently? You’ll be confronted with a preposterous amount of “solutions.” Here’s just a smattering of categories I plucked from various OEM sites: home, entertainment, enterprise, gaming, performance, high performance, government, higher education, workstations, all-in-ones, 3-D, lightweight, desktop replacements, pro and elite, basic and essential, advanced, personality plus, “all around excellence,” and “best of everything.”

Each of these categories is further broken down by subcategories. With Toshiba, for example, you have to first select the “laptops and netbooks section,” then click a category such as “high performance,” then search through two pages worth of 15 variations of the Qosmio and the Satellite laptops (forget about the Satellite Pro, for now), which are each classified by serial numbers. Naturally, it’s easy to tell the difference between the Toshiba Satellite P755-S5392 and (my personal favorite) the Toshiba Satellite A665-S5183X.

Apple, it seems, is no longer concerned with numbers and specs. They are too confusing, and not differentiated enough. Many companies, for example, include “4G LTE” in their product names; soon, however, most all smartphones and tablets will be on 4G LTE networks, so why does that matter? The primary reason consumers are buying an iPad is not because it has 4G LTE or an HD screen or 5-megapixel camera. Yes, those components are important, but they’re mainly buying it because it’s an iPad, and because it’s the new iPad.

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Call it a solution to the Rocky problem. The more sequels to the boxing film collection Sylvester Stallone pumps out, the more likely moviegoers are to forget which one featured Mr. T and which one featured the Russian-fighting machine juicing on communist steroids. Similarly, though Apple only produced three variations of the iPad, do we want to be looking for the iPad 17 one day in the future? No. It’s the same reason why Apple refers to Mac OS X 10.7.3 as “Lion” rather than some random string of numbers. (Compare that to Microsoft, which went from Windows 1.0 to 3.1 to NT 4.0 to 2000 to ME to XP to Vista. It’s a non-linear mess. So when the company finally returned to “Windows 7,” it was a welcome relief to consumers.)

Is Apple going to continue this “new” branding for other products? Will the next iPhone be the “new iPhone” instead of the “iPhone 5”? Apple (shockingly) did not respond to requests for comment. But we hope the company’s commitment to branding simplicity continues.

Out with the old, in with the new.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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