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Maybe this is for export and publish plugins that want to use the presets for generating the filenames of the exported or published photos?
The reaction is understandable, but I can also sympathise with the decision not to include it.
I had originally assumed there would be a rename via preset method, not just a get name equivalent. But I can imagine what havoc could ensue if it was included and a plugin author didn't exercise due care when making use of the functionality. Imagine a situation where a user installed a new plugin, forgot to select a photo (or selected all of them), and a slip of the mouse caused them to accidentally rename all of their photos to Blah00001, Blah00002, etc when looking at the options available in the plugin? The Lightroom undo mechanism would need to be very robust to restore from this and external factors (virusscanners, desktop search indexing engines, etc) might interfere with successfully undoing the process.
I have used this function in its current form for purposes similar to those John mentioned. But in general I can't see a whole lot of use for it in its current form, especially as it has a bug/design flaw (I've reported it) that means it can't cope with all the naming presets that the relevant LrApplication method returns.
I doubt Adobe excluded the photo rename function out of "fear".
I really, really, really, hope Lr4 has it.
Excluding it out of fear? Probably not. But they might have chosen not to include it during that cycle because they didn't have enough bandwidth to ensure it was safely implemented and completely bulletproof. Who knows? All we know is it isn't there right now.
So where does "really, really, really" place this "feature request" priority wise relative to all the others you already have registered? :-)
"I'm really, really, really hoping for a rename feature in SDK 4" can be considered synonymous with "I'll be really, really, really disappointed if its not there". Reasons available upon request, but perhaps it suffices to say: "I won't be the only one".
And, yes - I have a lot of good ideas to improve Lightroom and the SDK...