Naming the Apple tablet

Dan Frakes
27 January, 2010
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I’m generally not a fan of wildly speculating about products that don’t officially exist. So for the most part, I’ve tried to refrain from pontificating about Apple’s rumored tablet computer. But now that Apple’s officially announced… an announcement, and it appears all but certain that some sort of tablet-like device will be revealed at that event, it’s time to get my keyboard warmed up.

Where to start? I’ve heard and read scores of predictions about this new device’s hardware specs, which OS and apps it will run, and what type of touchscreen interface it will use, but the most interesting conjecture, to me, has been about the product’s name. (I’m apparently not alone; at least one online bookie has opened lines on various names.)

Perhaps it’s because Apple’s product names are such a part of our technological culture: Mac, iMac, iPod, iPhone, and MacBook have all become everyday words; the same can’t be said about the names of products from many other companies. Or maybe it’s because few companies generate fierce debate simply by the choice of a product name—remember when “MacBook” replaced “PowerBook”? Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself more curious about what Apple’s going to call this rumoured new product than about the size of its screen.

In that spirit, here’s a quick look at what I think are the most-likely names for Apple’s new tablet-like computing device—assuming it exists, of course—along with the pros and cons for each. I also threw in the biggest speculation-inducing tidbit for each.

Tablet. “Apple Tablet” is the way most of the media have referred to Apple’s rumoured device. But will it stick as an actual product name?

  • Pros: It’s simple, descriptive, memorable, and apt.
  • Cons: Microsoft introduced the term Tablet PC nearly 10 years ago. Tablets haven’t done well (to put it kindly) in the computing market, so Apple will probably steer clear of the word.
  • Biggest speculation-inducing tidbit: Thousands of tech sites for months using “tablet” as the generic way to say “We don’t know what it is or what it’s called.”

iSlate. My gut tells me there’s no way this one will fly, despite it being the most common alternative to “Tablet” I’ve seen.

iPad. I like the similarity to iPod, but something about this name makes me cringe a little.

Canvas. This late entry has been building steam around the Web. (Well, as much steam as can be generated by speculation among people like me who have nothing to do with a yet-to-be-announced product.)

  • Pros: Invokes images of a large surface for creative endeavors and expression.
  • Cons: Canvas (the material) is so not high-tech. Connotations might be too artsy.
  • Biggest speculation-inducing tidbit: Gruber likes it? Also, Apple’s event invitation was essentially a canvas.

Palette. I haven’t seen many mentions of this name around the Web, but it’s similar to Canvas and has some apt associations.

  • Pros: Like Canvas, it has creative connotations, but with a tech twist: it’s also the name for a small window containing essential tools and information—appropriate if Apple’s new device is designed to complement a traditional computer, rather than replace it.
  • Cons: “Palette” feels a bit too inconsequential—in both art and computing, it’s more of an accessory to something else than a meaningful thing on its own.
  • Biggest speculation-inducing tidbit: The aforementioned event invitation also looks a bit like a palette.

iPod [something]. Jason Snell mentioned this one last week, and it’s certainly a path Apple could take considering that some think the device will in many ways be a sort of super-sized iPod touch.

  • Pros: The “iPod [model]” series of names is one of the most recognizable and popular brands in the world. Combining iPod with one of the names above—for example, iPod tablet or iPod canvas—wouldn’t be a horrible way to go.
  • Cons: The iPod touch notwithstanding, many people associate “iPod” with media playback rather than more-flexible computing devices. Would make the device just another member of the iPod product line, instead of creating a new and unique line. The iPod line has been around for nearly a decade; I’m guessing Apple sees this new device as part of the future of computing.
  • Biggest speculation-inducing tidbit: The fact that the iPod touch is officially an iPod, despite running iPhone OS and being more of handheld computer than a media player.

iBook. This is the dark horse, but one I mused about some time ago when some were claiming Apple would use “MacBook” as the device’s name; Jason Snell likes it, too.

  • Pros: It’s a great name that combines e-reading with the multimedia and communication focus of Apple’s “i” devices. It’s well-known, but it’s been dormant long enough that it’s feasible Apple could pull it out of retirement.
  • Cons: It used to be Apple’s name for a traditional laptop. It might focus attention on the device’s ebook-reading features at the expense of its other capabilities. Ads for “Apple iBook, like new!” would cause mass confusion and frustration on ebay and Craigslist.
  • Biggest speculation-inducing tidbit: The most economical choice, as Apple already has the trademark and lots of old posters, T-shirts, and ad copy that could be recycled.

Got your own favourite name? Tell us about it, and why you like it, in the AMW Forums – and be sure to enter our competition to win a Mac drawing tablet. Entries close today, Wednesday, 27 January.

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