Microsoft Surface: good name

Why the Surface will work.

Names are funny things. Take for example "Starkiller". It’s not a bad name. It’s pretty appropriate for a character in a Sci Fi story - probably a bad guy, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. But the world would have been a poorer place if George Lucas had left the main protagonist of his most famous work with that moniker, instead of the more evocative (and appropriate) "Skywalker".

Which is why I think Microsoft are wise to name their new tablet the Surface.

Firstly, it’s an easy to name to say and write. It’s very hard to find single English words that you can trademark (let alone find a half decent url that hasn’t been sat on already), so when you already own one (as Microsoft did in this case), you’re wise to use it, even if the products that have gone previously have had less than stellar success.

Secondly, you can tie yourself in knots trying to find exciting new and different names to use. Choosing and then sticking with a name is really hard. Everyone loves how Apple brands products with their simple "i" device. But it so nearly wasn’t so. Steve Jobs was all set to call the iMac the rather less exciting "Macman" right until the last minute. If you’ve got something simple and evocative sitting right in front of you, grab it.

Thirdly, not everything makes sense when you’re naming. Can you imagine calling your product Gertrude, Centipede or 5t? No? Yet someone had the gumption to go for Mercedes, Caterpillar and 3M. Picking a new name needs courage, faith and a grim determination to make something work. Would you have sat in a room and bought "Blackberry?"

Plus in this case, there’s fun to be had with name elements like "surf" and "face" that already resonate in the digital territory the product occupies. It just fits.

Finally, whoever picked surface really understands that one of the things people love about tablets is the tactile way our hands sweep across them, the touch, the glide, their smoothness. Remember those sweeping hand gestures Tom Cruise made as his hands shot across those giant touch screens in "Minority Report". The way tablets feel makes using them special. And now Microsoft have a shot at owning that territory, both literally and metaphorically.

Of course, not everyone will love the name and these things are totally subjective. That’s the way of the world. But at least from a naming point of view, the Microsoft Surface has a real shout at making it.

Of course, whether the product's any good or not –well, that’s another story…

'Richard Morris runs branding and Design agency Identica.

Microsoft Surface, Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty Images
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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 50p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.