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
Show Hide image

There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR