What comes after the HD 4g iPad3?

Apple launched the third iteration of its iPad on Wednesday. Following on from the iPad, the iPad 2, we have… the.. iPad.

iPad Hero

It’s an interesting convention to choose.
Calling it an iPad 3 “would be so predictable,” said Phil Schillersenior vice president of worldwide marketing. But that implies that taking the number away was unpredictable. In a post last year, I suggested that Apple would move away from adding a number to each new model it launches, and I’m sure I was alone.

This new approach follows the company’s practice of simply naming its MP3 players, laptops and desktops, iPods, Mac Books and iMacs etc. Lots of speculators have suggested that this is the right way to go, simplifying the range and avoiding comparisons with competitors.

I’m not so sure the decision was a good one. It may have provided Schiller with a sound bite. But it will store up problems in the future. There is a fundamental difference between computers and MP3 players and mobile phones and laptops. Both the iPad and the iPhone are (often) sold on a contract, so there is an ostensible sell by date on these products. It is therefore necessary to have a quicker life cycle for these products. Assuming Apple continues its strategy of releasing new products each year, it will get into difficulties when it comes to product launches. Will we expect the advertisement of the new iPad and subsequently the newer iPad in a year’s time?

Comparisons with Apple computers and MP3 players are all very well, but they have fundamentally different uses. A computer should last several years, and can be upgraded to run current software. MP3 players have not changed function very much in the last few years and are unlikely to be upgraded as regularly as a phone or tablet. Therefore there is an inherent difference in the lifecycle of a contract based product.

It’s not hard to imagine the scenario of unscrupulous third party salesmen selling the ‘new’ iPad as the ‘new new’ iPad, or frustrated customers calling Apple’s (or even worse, third party network providers’) help desks trying to explain which ‘new’ iPad they have. Already, news articles are referring to it as the “new iPad” or the “iPad 4g“. The image above, from Apple’s website is titled iPad Hero. It feels like Apple has lost control of the brand name.

Of course Apple has always sought to be different and to buck the trend. Whilst its product launches attract enormous public interest, this new strategy may deliberately seek to homogenise demand and encourage people to upgrade in a more organic, as-required fashion. Theoretically this could actually limit sales at launch, unless Apple is actually planning to change its business model. Much has been made of Apple’s huge cash stockpile, and speculators have suggested that it could buy a mobile phone carrier. In this position, it would be preferable for its customers not to upgrade as often, but to stick with a single handset until they ‘need’ a new one, thereby increasing the life of each handset. It’d be a brave strategy indeed, not many brands have customers willing to queue for days to upgrade nearly-new products on the day of release, but would undoubtedly be an economic business model.

So what is this, Apple’s first big mistake, or its greatest coupe yet? We’ll have to wait and see.


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