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3 Theories on the New iPad’s Missing '3'

Quentin Fottrell

Three’s Company. Just not Apple.

That Apple CEO Tim Cook chose to call the company’s latest marvel “The New iPad,” and not the “iPad 3” as most expected, puzzled some experts. But others say it was a highly calculated decision.

Like any good Hollywood sequel, the new iPad is more explosive than its predecessors, offering double the screen resolution of the iPad 2, a five-megapixel camera and an ultra-fast $629 4G LTE network version. So why not give it the number 3? Some say this is just a case of Apple being Apple. That is, the company dropped the “3” simply because they think different and like to do what people least expect. “Apple likes to keep its products edgy and full of buzz,” says Andy Nyquist, founder of the investment blog See It Market.  (Apple did not returns calls seeking comment.)

But here are three alternate explanations for Apple’s abandonment of numerology.

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Sequels rarely live up to the original

Apple is downplaying that this is the third iPad in less than two years, experts say. “Numbers are significant,” says L.J. Shrum, professor and chair of marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He says consumers typically tolerate a new upgrade once a year, but even Apple may be pushing its luck by introducing the third iPad so soon. It also takes the pressure off Apple to always dream up dramatic new features, he says. Shrum says Apple may have learned a hard lesson after last year’s launch of the iPhone 4S, which was criticized by some consumers for being a less-than-spectacular upgrade.


Dropping the numbering strategy makes it’s easier for people to buy iPads, especially when they walk into an Apple store brimming with gadgets, experts say. “It’s a less confusing shopping experience,” says social psychologist Matt Wallaert. “Imagine your mom shopping for an iPad. She doesn’t want to get involved in the differences between iPad 2 and 3, she just wants an iPad.” The iPhone, he says, is the only consumer device where Apple continues to employ numerology as a marketing tactic, but Wallaert says those numbers are more related to the 3G and 4G telecom networks than the order of the different upgrades.

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Names are cooler than numbers

Numbering iPads cheapens the brand, experts say. Shrum says a numberless iPad seems less pedestrian. “It would be silly to call it the iPad 3, 4, 5 or 6,” he says. “That doesn’t fit with Apple’s mission to be cool and creative.” Dropping the “3” also allows Apple to offer tailored versions of the bigger iPad down the road like iPad Kids or iPad Gold. Apple may also be quietly making room in its portfolio of iPads for the long-rumored mini-iPad, Wallaert says: “It’s entirely likely that they will introduce a smaller iPad and they’re not going to get into the drama of having bigger iPads with different numbers.” Apple did this when it introduced the iPod Shuffle, a smaller screenless version of the original iPod portable music and video player.