I remember when my sisters and I bought my mom a tablet computer for Christmas last year. One of the first things she did on it was log on to her Facebook and update to her friends that “the kids got me an iPad for Christmas.” She was excited because she could stay in touch with me and all of my sisters, who are now scattered throughout the country.
But in reality, we didn’t get her an iPad. We gave her an Acer tablet. Fortunately, it’s working out quite well for her. Maybe a bit too well, as she has turned into quite the Facebooker since December.
The point of that story, however, is that she called it an iPad. Not an Acer, not a tablet — but an iPad. Just like you ask for a Band-Aid (not a bandage) when you have a cut, take an Advil (not some ibuprofen) when you have a headache and reach for a Kleenex (not a tissue) when you need to blow your nose, the world is computing with an iPad, even if they’re using a Motorola Xoom or Samsung Galaxy Tab.
The Associated Press recently looked into this idea of product “genericization,” or the idea that a product’s popularity can essentially change the English language. Maybe even the world’s language.
“For the vast majority, the idea of a tablet is really captured by the idea of an iPad,” Josh Davis, a manager at Abt Electronics in Chicago, told the AP. “They gave birth to the whole category and brought it to life.”
While most companies would relish the idea of their product being associated with all other products in that same category, Apple needs to be careful it doesn’t diminish their brand by becoming too generic. Would Apple executives really like their superior tablet being associated with a product by Acer or Motorola? Probably not, because Apple is continually trying to always create its own category. To Apple, it’s more than a tablet, more than an e-reader, emailing machine, Internet browser, etc. It’s an iPad and it’s the only one.
So the next time you reach for a Q-tip, remember you’re actually grabbing a cotton swab. You’re not enjoying Jell-O for desert, your enjoying gelatin. And probably the biggest example of genericization today — you searched for this story online. You didn’t google it.