Why iOS Devices Have Distinguishing Names

There has already been a lot of talk about yesterday’s Apple announcement and the fact that the new iPad is just called iPad, and was referred to as “the new iPad” throughout the presentation. People are making a big deal out of this for various reasons. Part of the talk has been that it’s confusing since they are still selling the iPad 2. Part of the talk is the conspiracy theory that when Tim Cook mentioned they have a lot coming this year it means that there will be another, perhaps smaller, iPad coming later this year. Another theory is that this was just an eventual end state anyway, since iPad 9 sounds kind of silly, and at some point they would drop the numbers. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that it was potentially a response to backlash around iPhone 4S though.

There was a massive backlash when Apple released the iPhone 4S instead of the iPhone 5. Some people seemed legitimately upset by the changes in features, but others seemed disappointed that it was not just called “iPhone 5”. Apple sold kajillions of these things and ultimately the backlash was foolish, but they still took a (moderate) beating for a few days/weeks. It has to at least be possible that the decision to just call the third iPad, “iPad” had something to do with that.

Many people have cited the fact that all of their iPod revisions were called the same thing as previous models. In other words, the new iPod Nano is just called iPod Nano, not iPod Nano 3 (or whatever). Their computer line works this way too. The 11-inch MacBook Air is always just “the 11-inch MacBook Air”. They do differentiate these in documentation and in the refurbished store by listing a month/year the model was released, but the average person likely doesn’t easily know how to identify this.

The question is, why do people care what model/revision they have? The answer is software updates. When Apple releases an update to OS X, the minimum requirements are specified, so a user just checks “About This Mac” and can determine if the latest update will work. The iPad and the iPhone are used by a wider range of people, many of whom wouldn’t know about specifications and minimum requirements. Even more important though, iPad and iPhone specifications are not publicized, so no users wouldn’t be able to answer the question of “does my iOS device meet the minimum system requirements?” by looking on their device and then on the Apple website.

As of right now Apple seems to be dropping support for iPhones that are older than the newest and second newest. We won’t know until iOS 6 is released if this applies to the iPad as well. A lot of people likely keep their devices longer than tech geeks who upgrade every, or every other year. If Apple didn’t distinguish their iPhone models, how would users know if their model supported the latest version?

Although the iPod models were referred to by “generation”, my guess is that most users didn’t know which generation they owned. This wasn’t a big deal because no one cared all that much about iPod software updates and likely just installed them when iTunes told them there was one. iOS updates are big events that many people know about. New features attract attention and people to understand if their device is eligible. If every iPhone is just called “iPhone”, how will they know? Does Apple go the route of laptops and say the year the phone was released? Will this make sense to most people? My guess is that this was part of the reason Apple went with this strategy with the iPhone in the first place. Maybe because the iPad is more powerful it will be able to support iOS updates for longer than the iPhone can, and so Apple doesn’t see it being an issue for most people.

Most people seem to be asking “why now”? Perhaps Apple sees the forest for the trees and realized that this naming convention couldn’t go on forever. Perhaps they want people to think about just one device when they think of iPad, instead of thinking of them as iPad 2 and iPad 3. The real answer though, is that we likely won’t know, at least anytime soon. Unless Apple releases a new iPad in the next few months, it’s unlikely anything can be taken away from this until we see the next iPhone and what it’s called. The bottom line, is that it doesn’t really matter what the device is called, either way it’s the latest and greatest iPad. Apple will sell tons of them and a few months from now, no one will be dwelling on the name.