When Steve Jobs announced in January that Apple's new tablet would be called the iPad, some fans ridiculed the name, saying it conjured up images of feminine hygiene products rather than cutting-edge mobile gadgetry.
Two months later, branding experts say the name has punchy appeal and that jokes won't deter women—or men, for that matter—from buying Apple's (AAPL) tablet computer, which goes on sale in the U.S. Apr. 3. "The minute you hear it, you know who brought it to you, how it's going to work, that it's high quality, and how it even looks," said Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer for brand consulting firm Landor Associates. "The name does all that in just four letters. That's amazing."
The "i" prefix on product names has become a convention that many consumers associate with Apple. Products including the iPod digital music player, iPhone, and iMac computers employ the designation. Apple bought the iPad trademark from Fujitsu for an undisclosed sum, according to records with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The iPad will be capable of wirelessly serving up Web pages, e-mail, music, TV, and electronic books and periodicals.
Businesswomen in Silicon Valley said jokes about the iPad's name don't ring true. Esther Dyson, a longtime computer industry commentator , said the feminine hygiene reference to iPad wasn't her initial reaction. "I guess I have been i-conditioned by Apple," she says.
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Jennifer Jones, a veteran Valley marketing executive and creator of a series of podcasts called "Marketing Voices," says the iPad name "works as part of a product line. I did not think of the feminine side of it."
Apple plans initially to sell three iPad models, starting at $499, with built-in support for Wi-Fi wireless networking. Three additional models that can communicate over high-speed 3G wireless networks will go on sale later in April.
Jobs didn't respond to a request asking why Apple chose iPad as the name for the touchscreen tablet. Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman, says the iPad is "something new," reiterating comments by Jobs in January.
Apple may sell 2 million to 2.5 million iPads this year, according to Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Bros. David Bailey, an analyst at Goldman Sachs (GS), says sales could reach 6 million units. Apple shares gained 4.35, or 1.9%, to close at 230.90 on Mar. 26. The stock has more than doubled in the past year.
Jokes about the iPad's name began circulating after Apple's Jan. 27 launch of the device. Some referenced a 2006 sketch on the television program MadTV about a mythical Apple feminine hygiene product called the 'iPad.' Public relations and media professionals publicly lampooned Apple's brand name as off-putting..
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Elsie Maio, president of branding agency Maio & Co. in New York, calls the puns "sad." She says they never occurred to her nor to female colleagues—one of whom, she notes, lives in Germany, where the word "pad" isn't used to describe feminine hygiene products. "It is short, distinctive, and memorable," Maio says of Apple's appellation. "It's a pad of paper that you grab and go."
Libby Gill, a Los Angeles-based branding expert, dismissed the puns as "a middle-school reaction." Jokes about Nintendo's hit Wii videogame console didn't squelch demand for that product when it went on sale in 2006, she notes. "The ultimate thing about a brand is: Do they deliver on their promise?" she says. "If it delivers what they say and it does what people want, it will sell."
Perhaps the final joke on the subject belongs to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, now chief scientist at computer storage vendor Fusion-io. The iPad name is reasonable, he says, although it sounds too much like iPod. "Programmers know the problems with similarly spelled names that introduce chances for ambiguity," he says. "What a horrible problem," Wozniak adds, "trying to find the ultimate names for hot product categories."