The Microsoft Surface tablet introduced yesterday looks like a compelling product, and backed by the marketing muscle of the Redmond giant it will no doubt become an instant competitor. I'll get to some deeper thoughts on the product later, but first a rather OCD observation about the name. I hate it.
Phonetically, "surface" is a soft word, composed of three unvoiced fricatives (produced by the "s," "f," and "c") wrapped around the approximant consonant "r." Take a look at Microsoft's other product names and you'll find very few without at least one plosive ("p," "t," "k," "b," "d," "g"); in fact the only one that comes to mind is Office.
Now look at Surface's competitors: iPad, Galaxy, Kindle, Nook, Playbook. Chock full of plosives. There's a reason for that, even if the namers weren't entirely conscious of the reason why. These names explode from the mouth driven by the plosives within them. They make an impression.
Surface's comparative disadvantage is only exaggerated when used in the plural or possessive, adding yet another unvoiced "s" and a whole extra syllable, whereas the other product names merely tack the "s" onto the end, fully voiced (as a "z" sound) in the case of iPads, Galaxies, and Kindles.
And as a consumer product, Microsoft's habit of trademarking conversational English doesn't help dig the Surface out of the phonetic hole it finds itself in. Imagine talking about "Surfaces" in the same way we talk about "iPads," as in: "I use my Surface all the time." The implicit meaning in a product name should be something that helps you build your brand, not something that needs to be overcome over time.
Critics ridiculed Apple when it introduced the iPad, but it's an easy, memorable, plosive-filled word to say that modifies a familiar object—a pad—with all the inherent meaning Apple's ubiquitous lowercase "i" brings with it after more than a decade of relentless marketing. (Also, iPad was the obvious choice for the iPod maker despite the easy joke about feminine napkins.)
But with Surface, Microsoft is starting from scratch, competing with the other common uses of the word, and burdened by phonetics that just don't roll off the tongue.