Before the official announcement of Apple’s iPad several different names were floated for the tablet including iTablet and iSlate. In the many months between the latest rounds of rumors (started in early 2009) and the actual announcement, the likelihood of iPad being the final name was hotly debated and often dismissed by people who were already saying it reminded them of maxipads. When the announcement came down nearly everyone I know either braced themselves for or gleefully awaited the feminine hygiene jokes to come.
However, a small minority of people I encountered didn’t understand why iPad immediately brought to mind maxipads. They pointed out that people use words like mousepad and notepad and even the phrase pad of paper every day without devolving into absorbancy jokes. So why is iPad funny? Having given this far, far too much thought, I’ve been able to identify three key reasons why I think it’s happening.
- As the MADtv skit showed, it’s long been funny to put the little i in front of words to make fun of Apple’s naming conventions. Sure, Apple has been very successful in branding the iProducts, and that’s part of why the jokes work. iPad seems like it should be a joke even though it’s not.
- Pad is a weak word. Just say it out loud: paaaaaad. That long a doesn’t help. Most other iProducts have pretty strong words after the little i. Pod, Mac, Work, Life. They have plosives and hard K sounds and short vowels. Pad needs words associated with it that sound strong or right in order to blend seamlessly into the vocabulary. Mousepad, Trackpad, Notepad, even CrunchPad. And though women refer to Always and etc. as just pads most of the time, that’s shorthand. The full word is Maxipad. There are just some words in English that sound somewhat weak on their own, and Pad is one of them. A weak word like this cannot support the little i, therefore the name (regardless of the jokes) just doesn’t feel strong or desirable.
- Regardless of the many other uses of the term pad, most of the time when someone asks for a pad they’re asking for a maxipad unless in context it makes far more sense that they’re asking for a pad of paper. Other than that, how many times have you used the word pad all by itself in normal conversation in a non-specialized context1? The little i is not the most important aspect of iPad, it’s so ubiquitous and familiar that, even as we say it, our minds and tongues are gliding right over it to the real word on the other side: Phone, Pod, Mac, Life, Work. That is the whole point of the little i. Therefore, the iPad is just basically Pad, and pads bring very few specific images to most American minds, and one of the prominent ones happens to be maxipads.
So there you have it. This is why I think the iPad name instantly became the butt of jokes or at least disappointment. Apple has some strong reasons for choosing iPad I am sure. I’m also sure they have some smart branding people whose job it is to think about these things. Maybe they had an off day? Maybe they’re all men. Maybe they thought that eventually people would stop tittering and just accept it, because none of the alternatives worked for whatever reason.
In the end, it doesn’t matter much. They’ve gone with iPad and have to stick with it. And we’ll have to live with it. As others have pointed out, the Wii encountered much the same reception upon release and, lo these many years later, we’ve all gotten used to it (or over it) and happily use them all the time. I’m sure the same will happen with the iPad. Still, I’m longing for a decal that I can stick on the back to turn my iPad into a maxiPad.
- i.e. it doesn’t count if your workplace uses something called a pad for everyday workplace operations. It also doesn’t count if you roleplay Star Trek on a regular basis. [↩]