What’s in a name: Why the new iPad isn’t called iPad 3

March 2012 iPad launch event

March 2012 iPad launch eventOne of the big mysteries ahead of Wednesday’s Apple event was a simple question: What is the new iPad going to be called? The tech press had long settled on iPad 3, but some outlets had recently reported that the product name would actually be iPad HD, in reference to the new high-resolution Retina display.

Apparently, Apple wasn’t having any of that. More than an hour into the show, Apple CEO Tim Cook finally revealed that the new iPad is called just that: the new iPad.

It seems like an odd choice at first sight, especially in light of the fact that Apple will continue to sell the iPad 2 for $399. However, the new name signals something much more profound than just a new product generation.

Apple is acknowledging that we have arrived in a post-PC world, where iPads aren’t just niche products for gadget lovers with an eye for specs and revision numbers. Instead, they’re among the best-selling computing devices, something that everyone uses to explore the Internet, do commerce and consume media.

Cook himself spent a good amount of time at the beginning of the event talking about this shift. The iPad reinvented portable computing, he said, defining a whole new product category, with sales exceeding even the wildest predictions. This in turn is  shaping Apple’s business model: The company sold 172 million iPhones, iPods and iPads last year, and iOS-based devices now account for 72 percent of Apple’s revenue. Apple sold 62 million iOS devices in the holiday quarter alone.

Part of this post-PC reality is a new normalcy. Consumers don’t have to be sold on getting a new iOS device anymore; they’re on everyone’s short list when contemplating a new purchase. And that’s especially true in the tablet market, where Apple sells more devices than all of its competitors combined. So it’s time for the company to treat its post-PC products the same way it’s been treating its PC product segments for some time: as devices you’re going to buy and frequently replace over several product generations, no matter the specs.

Apple has long been doing this in the PC space, where its products are simply called MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac mini. Sure, the most dedicated Apple followers will always know which generation of the MacBook Pro has which CPU, and which ports are present on which laptop iteration. But for the rest of us, these differences don’t matter all that much. We buy the latest generation, trusting Apple that the hardware will live up to our expectations. We expect the MacBook Air to be the best in portable computing and the MacBook Pro to be powerful – and we don’t need complicated revision numbers to keep track of all the changes over the years.

In a way, not going for names like iPad 3 or iPad HD shows that the iPad has grown up: it’s a device that’s here to stay and shape the post-PC world for years to come. It’s the new iPad, made for a new world.

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