Apple wants iPad to be the Kleenex of tablets

People don't say tissue anymore, they say Kleenex. Apple wants that for its iPad. It worked for its iPod.

Apple introduces the new iPad at an event yesterday. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple doesn't want consumers to buy tablets, it wants them to buy iPads.

That's likely the thinking behind Apple's head-scratching move to dub its latest product the new iPad, dropping any numbers or suffixes.

By moving back to just iPad for the name , Apple can better crystalize its marketing effort under a single brand. More importantly, the company can take its dominant market position and push to have "iPad" supersede "tablet" as the generic name for a tablet computing device. Think Kleenex for tissues, Photoshop for image manipulation, or Apple's own iPod for MP3 players.

"It's a way that Apple takes ownership of the category," said Robert Passikoff, president of brand consulting firm Brand Keys. "They're focusing the brand more on the category than the individual features."

The move away from numbers could also hint at fewer major upgrades from year to year. The use of numbers--a move from 2 to 3, for instance--would imply a generational leap in the product. While the new iPad is certainly an attractive tablet, there are only incremental improvements over the iPad 2. By sticking with just the iPad name, the company is off the hook, at least from a psychological standpoint, from making major advances each year.

"The differences between versions are becoming smaller and smaller," said Roger Entner, a mobile consultant for Recon Analytics.

Apple wasn't available for comment.

It's not a completely foreign concept to Apple. The company's MacBook line eschews numbers, and the name remains consistent. Maintaining a consistent and singular brand also allows for spinoffs that clearly connote a different product. The MacBook, for instance, has the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro varieties, just as there is the iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, and iPod Touch.

That could potentially open the door for an iPad Mini--a smaller version of the iPad constantly circling the rumor mill.

Of course, there could be some initial confusion. Will consumers go in asking for an iPad 3 or new iPad? Will they look at the iPad 2 and decide it's a better product than just iPad?

But that confusion will likely subside quickly, industry observers say. Sales clerks are smart enough to point the difference, and the iPad 2 likely won't be prominently displayed, with much of the shelf space and attention focused on the new iPad.

There was some initial backlash to the original iPad name as well, which was mocked as a feminine hygiene product. Even the iPhone name, which was associated with a clunky Cisco Systems product when Apple first announced its phone (Apple later struck a deal with Cisco to use the name), didn't immediately impress anyone.

Ultimately, the payoff could be huge. Apple's iPod dominated the MP3 player business to the point that people dropped the name and simply referred to all digital music players as iPods.

"I'm betting no one is talking about listening to their music on the Zune or MP3 player," Passikoff said.

Yet at its peak in 2007, the MP3 player market generated nearly $6 billion, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That's not a bad chunk of change, but it pales in comparison to the potential mass appeal of the tablet. Forrester Research predicts a third of all adults in the U.S. and Europe will own a tablet by 2016.

With so many competitors out with their own take on the tablet, perhaps Apple wanted to redouble its effort to ensure that history repeats itself. There's much more at stake. While the MP3 market was a nice business for Apple, the tablet business represents the company's future. Ensuring its leadership in the burgeoning area may be more important than even the continued success of its MacBook and iPhone operations.

"It's a lot more powerful, in terms of the brand and the context of the category, to call it an iPad," Passikoff said.

 

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