An­a­lyz­ing Ap­ple’s nam­ing scheme

Though it may feel dated, many of Ap­ple’s ‘i’ prod­ucts carry sig­nif­i­cant brand­ing value that could mean the i-name will stick around for a while.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON SNELL

The dis­cov­ery ( go.mac­ dscv) that in IOS 11.3 Ap­ple is re­nam­ing the ibooks app to Books seemed…not par­tic­u­larly rev­e­la­tory. We’ve all read about how Ap­ple’s been slowly strip­ping away the low­er­case i pre­fix from older prod­ucts. New prod­ucts and ser­vices are a generic word pre­ceded with the word Ap­ple, as in Ap­ple TV and Ap­ple Watch. This is the con­ven­tional wis­dom. But is it true?

NO, KILL ‘i’

Ap­ple’s made no pro­nounce­ments it­self about it. Yes, it seems the i pre­fix in­tro­duced with the imac 20 years ago has fallen out of fa­vor. (I’m re­minded of the time when Steve Jobs said that the power pre­fix

of the Power­book and Power Mac had got­ten tired.) And yet that same pre­fix con­tin­ues to ap­pear in front of some of Ap­ple’s most pop­u­lar prod­ucts and plat­forms! Mean­while, Ap­ple has an­nounced new hard­ware—like Air­pods and the Homepod—with ab­so­lutely no sign of either the let­ter i or the Ap­ple pre­fix.

Even with the de­par­ture of the i in front of ibooks, the Ap­ple prod­uct cat­a­log is still lit­tered with i- names: IOS, iphone, ipad, imac, icloud. It’s pos­si­ble that Ap­ple is bid­ing its time and will one day re­name all of those prod­ucts—for sev­eral years I’ve been get­ting emails from peo­ple who are ab­so­lutely sure that the next iphone will be called Ap­ple Phone—but it seems highly un­likely to me.

The iphone, and the IOS plat­form it pow­ers, are in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar and rec­og­niz­able brands. The ipad, though less suc­cess­ful than the iphone, is also a known quan­tity. I can’t see Ap­ple ditch­ing all of that his­tory, suc­cess, and brand recog­ni­tion for the sake of some kind of in­side-base­ball cor­po­rate re­brand­ing ef­fort.

Yes, it seems like Ap­ple has de­cided that not ev­ery sin­gle app it cre­ates needs to be slapped with the let­ter i. iphoto be­came Pho­tos, ichat be­came Mes­sages, ical be­came Cal­en­dar, and if we wait around long enough imovie will prob­a­bly turn into a pump­kin, too. (Maybe one day itunes will ac­tu­ally get split up into Mu­sic and Pod­cast apps like on IOS, and the store where Ap­ple sells me­dia will get a more pro­saic name.) Then again, Ap­ple’s been sim­pli­fy­ing app names in gen­eral— take Con­tacts, which used to be Ad­dress Book, not icon­tacts.

But what about icloud? Ap­ple’s changed the name of its on­line ser­vice of­fer­ing be­fore—re­mem­ber Mo­bileme?— but does it re­ally need to change it? And of course, there’s the imac, which af­ter 20 years prac­ti­cally de­fines the desk­top Mac ex­pe­ri­ence. If you asked me last year I would’ve told you that it didn’t seem ridicu­lous that Ap­ple might just change the name of the imac to “Mac” in the fu­ture— but now that there’s an imac Pro, I’m a lit­tle less sure of that one.

Per­haps Ap­ple has de­cided that this weird in-be­tween state of prod­uct nam­ing is the best place for it to be, de­spite its awk­ward­ness. But how can we ex­plain the trend to­ward Ap­ple [blank] prod­ucts, like Ap­ple TV and Ap­ple Watch and Ap­ple Mu­sic? It’s com­pli­cated. Ap­ple is one of the world’s most rec­og­nized and ap­pre­ci­ated brand names, so it makes sense for the com­pany to take ad­van­tage of that.

That said, the Ap­ple TV name is more of an ac­ci­dent—you may not re­mem­ber this, but when the Ap­ple TV was orig­i­nally an­nounced, it had a dif­fer­ent name: ITV. Pre­sum­ably the Bri­tish broad­caster ITV

had some is­sues with that name, and Ap­ple had to come up with a dif­fer­ent name. Prepend­ing prod­ucts with the Ap­ple name frees the com­pany up to not find a legally us­able word in an in­cred­i­bly crowded global prod­uct en­vi­ron­ment—the Ap­ple smart­watch is sim­ply Ap­ple Watch, and that’s an ef­fec­tive name.


These, then, are the trends: Apps with i names are be­ing re­named. Some new prod­ucts and ser­vices are the word Ap­ple fol­lowed by a generic noun. There hasn’t been a new i prod­uct in ages.

Now let me dare to buck the trend, at least for a mo­ment. I’m not say­ing that this is some­thing Ap­ple will do, so much as sug­gest­ing that Ap­ple’s past be­hav­ior is no proof that it will con­tinue into the fu­ture. What if Ap­ple made a new de­vice and chose to add the i pre­fix to it? What kind of de­vice would that be?

The most prom­i­nent use of the pre­fix is ev­ery­thing re­lated to IOS. IOS runs on iphones, ipads, and even the ipod touch (re­mem­ber it?). Ev­ery i de­vice runs IOS. If you ig­nore the ex­is­tence of the imac and icloud, it sounds an aw­ful lot like a con­sis­tent prod­uct nam­ing scheme—

Mac for Macs, i for IOS de­vices.

Now imag­ine a lap­top-shaped IOS de­vice ( go.mac­ I’ve made my ar­gu­ments ( go.mac­ in fa­vor of it. I’m not sure Ap­ple will ever do it, but if they did, what would they call it?

To fit into the rest of the IOS prod­uct line, wouldn’t it in­herit an i name? iphone, ipad, and…the new thing. What would be a good name for a lap­top?

Let’s be re­al­is­tic. It is highly un­likely that Ap­ple is re­nam­ing ibooks to Books just be­cause it wants to use the ibook trade­mark on a third prod­uct (af­ter the pre-in­tel Mac con­sumer lap­top of yore, of course). Oc­cam’s Ra­zor tells us that the sim­plest ex­pla­na­tion—this is part of a larger trend to­ward Ap­ple sim­pli­fy­ing the names of its apps into nouns—is prob­a­bly the cor­rect one.

And yet…if Ap­ple did make such a prod­uct, it would be a pretty good name. Enough for me to ques­tion whether the con­ven­tional wis­dom that Ap­ple will never make an­other i prod­uct is re­ally true. ■

The one that started it all: the orig­i­nal imac.

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