Apple's iPad was introduced Wednesday as an Internet sensation.
But it created an Internet sensation of a different sort -- though not necessarily about a subject discussed in polite company.
Since Steve Jobs unveiled his latest gadget -- the, um, iPad -- the feminine hygiene jokes have been flying fast and furious for the past two days on Twitter, the blogosphere and on cable:
"Will the next one have wings?"
"Will the 64GB version be called the iMaxiPad?"
"'iPad: Proof not enough women work in the Apple Naming Department."
That last tweet, in fact, reflected a sense among some women, marketing experts and yes, some men, that perhaps the word "iPad" was not the best choice for Apple's Next Big Thing.
"It's an unfortunate name choice," contended Michael Silverstein, senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group and author of "Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World's Largest, Fastest-Growing Market."
"They needed to do a research protocol and testing for a product that would offend no one while making clear its technical, functional and emotional benefits," he said.
The device is touted variously as a bridge between the iPhone and a Macbook; the second coming for print newspapers, magazines and books; a giant iPhone and/or a really cool alternative to the Kindle.
But somehow, amid the rollout, breathlessly live-blogged and video-streamed all over the world ("Mr. Jobs is now talking about accessories," the New York Times' David Carr reported, at precisely 2:25 p.m. Wednesday), people got hung up on the name. Indeed, an hour after Mr. Jobs unveiled the new product, "#iTampon" was a trending topic on Twitter.
Will all the period jokes hurt the product, which received good but not rave reviews?
Experts are divided. Some thought Apple -- notorious for its ironclad control of its brand -- had stumbled.
In surveys conducted by Mr. Silverstein's company, women consistently rank Apple as one of the world's top three brands and the $5 trillion female economy is the largest growing segment of the world markets. So attention must be paid to this demographic, and Apple should have been more sensitive to that "with simple market research to test the name prior to launch," he said.
None of Apple's top executives are women -- according to its own Web page (www.apple.com/pr/bios/) -- and only one woman serves on its board. It's not clear whether Apple paid much attention to the female demographic in naming the iPad -- perhaps because it can boast equal market share between both men and women.
"I'll tell you, the name didn't really bother me at all," said Kimberly Rentler, a marketing manager for Glaxo Smith Kline's Robinson office, and avowed Apple user who owns an iPhone and a Macbook.
"My first thought was it would bother men more than women -- I don't know, it seems to me they're more uncomfortable for that kind of thing. They're the ones who don't like to go the grocery store and buy that stuff for their wives or daughters, so it surprised me that so many women said something. What's the big deal? The iPad is a great product."
In the long, colorful history of product naming, there have been some stumbles. The 1990s compact Ford Probe is consistently listed as one of the 10 worst car names of all time.
But in the elaborate architecture of Apple branding, "iPad fits in pretty well," said Alex Frankel, author of "Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business."
"As far as provocative names go, it's not too exciting, it doesn't grab me too much," Mr. Frankel said. "But if you're Apple Inc., the challenges of naming are not as significant as they are for smaller companies trying to be heard above the noise."
Even if Apple did do its naming research, and even if it knew the term iPad might hurt in the short term, "they're looking to define this new category and achieve their objectives, even if a small contingent is put off."
All the Internet chatter about "pads" -- what they imply and don't imply -- are beside the point, said Greg Simkins, an Apple user based in Japan, who noted that some of the other names floated around prior to the product's launch -- iSlate, iTablet, iSketch, et al -- were inferior to the one the company finally settled on.
"I am not a woman, so the word "pad" does not have powerful meaning for me other than as a metaphor for a paper writing pad, which I think is a great metaphor -- better than a slate. I don't really use slate, which is so 18th century," he said.
Actually, Robert Blackwell, an Apple user who lives in Manchester, says he suspects that the company passed on iTablet for another reason -- the iPad is more akin to an iPod than a computer, and "They're saving that name for a bigger, more powerful version they're going to introduce down the road."
In six months, it's pretty likely that the iPad's awkward debut will be forgotten, Mr. Frankel predicted. "There aren't many names that tank a product. A bad product will pretty much do that by itself."
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1949. First Published January 29, 2010 5:00 AM