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etymology: The future, name TBD

Posted by: Paola Norambuena on January 28, 2011

In case you didn't get the text, laptops are the next desktops. Tomorrow belongs to the tablets, smart phones, and e-readers that amp up our power while dialing down the bulk. Anyone paying attention to CES this month has seen the near future, and it is indeed sleek, streamlined and sweet.

Tablet naming appears to be striking out in several directions at once, as befits a new category of products just flexing its digital muscles in the market. Surveying the landscape, we wonder where exactly naming for the category will land, and whether anyone will ever topple what iPad stands for in our minds, even if other products exceed it.

Motorola introduced the Xoom, clinging hopefully to the notion that the letter "X" can still signify as futuristic and cutting edge, in a way that feels loosely linked to its line of phones, with its Droid Bionic, its Cliq and its Atrix. While it gets marks for consistency, there's a 1980s comic book quality to all of Motorola's names that is neither descriptive nor particularly fresh.

BlackBerry premiered its Playbook tablet. On the downside, anything ending in "book" feels generic by now – and there's the small matter that the entire tablet category is positioning itself against the laptop "books" of past. But give good marks to BlackBerry for finding a name that suggests a work/life sweet spot: imperatives of strategy and the notion of sport.

Dell jumped into the tablet fray as well, with the Streak. Of all the names, this one gets good marks for differentiation. Among the connotations of the word: speed and mobility (and maybe a little nudity for those that recall fondly the "streaking" fad of the 1970s). On the downside, the word streak can also mean leaving a mark that begs to be cleaned away, like the ones busy digits can leave on glossy screens.

It may be that we're trending towards an old-fashioned evocation of the future. Along with the Xoom and the Streak, throw into the mix Samsung's Galaxy Tab, and the field is feeling like a 1960s sci-fi movie.

Of course other manufacturers are piggybacking on the iPad name (Lenovo's Le Pad, the ASUS Eee Pad – e-gads!), and Augen has a line of tablets named after coffee drinks: the Gentouch Espresso, the Latte and the Latte Grande. These speak for themselves.

With technology companies seeking the PR infusion that CES brings, many products were rushed to the trade show floor in various states of semi-market-readiness. They also brought all the trademarks they could find: Every single brilliant idea named, registered, and copyrighted. As Interbrand's Nirm Shanbhag discusses, in a sea of innovation, not every last little piece of brilliance needs to be branded. Sometimes, it's best to keep it simple.

In the meantime, as these tablets are launched for real – and as we get to play and work with them – the names of tomorrow may become clearer. Till then, Apple holds the lead, and it's an iFuture for now.

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