Can rebranding save the iPad? Probably not

Will it matter to the buying masses if the new iPad is called the iPad Air 3 or the iPad Pro? I doubt it, but given Apple's trend for convoluted and chaotic naming, I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen.

The iPad rumor-du-jour is that Apple is planning to drop the "Air" branding and instead roll whatever hardware was destined to be the iPad Air 3 into the "Pro" lineup. But can rebranding help Apple sell more iPads?

I'll be the first to admit that Apple's branding has become a little scattered and confused as of late. Terms such as "Air," and "mini," and "Pro" are being strewn about enthusiastically, but it's hard for a consumer to really get a grip on what the differences actually are.

For example, what's really "Pro" about the iPad Pro? Is it the screen size? The performance? The stylus, sorry, I mean Pencil? Is it the price tag? The keyboard (a keyboard is a pro thing now?)? Or did Apple just need something to print on the box to differentiate it from the smaller iPad and the even smaller iPad?

I'm not even sure Apple knows what the "Pro" stands for, given that most of its marketing material for the device shows it displaying a planet on the screen.

And it's not just the iPad. Apple's Mac lineup is equally confusing to navigate.

Over the more than two decades that I've been covering tech I've noticed something about branding. When a product is dominant in a market space, the branding is kept simple and relatively consistent (think "Windows," "Office," "iPod," "iPhone," or "PlayStation"). New products are usually distinguished from the old ones by a suffix, but on the whole that's just for sales purposes (Windows is still Windows, Office is Office, and so on). Compare this to products that are lagging, which usually have a more convoluted and chaotic lineage (usually arising from frequent rebranding (which ends up with products being called "Xbox One," "Lumia 950 XL," "Asus Transformer Pad Infinity," and "BlackBerry Priv").

You get the idea, right?

Apple's branding feels like it's making a slow transition from simple and consistent to convoluted and chaotic. A product lineup that once felt simple and clean is now riddled with "Pro" and "Air" and "Retina" and "S" (or is that an "s"?). Apple tried throwing in a "C" (or was it a "c"?) but that didn't work out too well, and if the rumors are to be believed, it's going to see what we all make of an "SE" too.

I remember when Apple used to be focused on selling good products. Now it feels like the company is selling brands, and in order to cater for consumer whims (bigger devices, smaller devices, devices with a form factor that was previously deprecated because the new form factor was supposedly better), and I understand that Apple needs something to put on the box, but most of this comes across as ambiguous fluff with little connection to reality.

Don't believe me? Well, how about the fact that the MacBook Air is no longer Apple's lightest MacBook.

Which brings me back to the iPad Pro. Slapping the word "Pro" or "Professional" on something has always felt like a desperate move to me, a bit like how companies slap "Limited Edition" onto things (Pro tip: If it says "Limited Edition" on something, you can bet that it isn't). Given the direction in which iPad sales are headed (down, in case you didn't know), I can understand why there might be a certain level of panic, but I can't see it helping. Why? Because Apple has conditioned buyers to make a decision based on a price point, not spec or sub-branding.

So, while it's just a speculation that Apple is going to rebrand the iPad Air as the iPad Pro, I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen. Who knows, maybe we'll also get "iTunes 2016 Professional Edition" and an "Apple Watch Limited Edition XL C" before the year is out.

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