Jan 10

A monumental naming opportunity

In the naming biz, this is a dream job

What a difference a few billion eyeballs can  make.

While some new products lead a pauper’s life when it comes to advertising and PR, Apple’s new tablet will be born into obscene riches. It will become a TV star, a global headline, grace the cover of hundreds of magazines and be analyzed in thousands of blogs. Whatever name Apple gives it — that word will echo across the land.

Naming experts will tell you that even silly names are accepted quickly, as soon as they become familiar. (See Verizon, Virgin and Google.) Clearly the tablet’s name will become familiar with breathtaking speed.

This gives Apple license to be incredibly brave. They can make the name as creative as the product itself. But how brave will they be? If you try to go by Apple history, it will only confuse you. Here, you’ll find two totally opposite examples: iPod and iPhone.

iPod is a classic name for the ages. No one could have predicted it, since it said nothing about the product other than vaguely describe its form factor. It had as little to do with music as the name Macintosh did with computers. But by creating such a magnificent user experience, Apple would soon make the name iPod synonymous with music — and one of the most powerful brand names on earth.

iPhone took a completely different path. The product was hotly anticipated for months, and the prognosticators had already dubbed it the iPhone. The familiar “i” made it an Apple product, and the device would be … a phone. Not Apple’s most imaginative moment.

With iPhone, the category named the product. With iPod, the product named the category.

My hope is that the tablet’s naming will be more in the creative tradition of iPod and less in the obvious tradition of iPhone. Granted, slate describes the shape of the product just as pod did before. The difference here is that the industry is already overflowing with tablets and slates. It was a feisty and original Apple that shook up the music business with the word iPod. It would be great to see that same Apple show up on Wednesday.

The only real argument for iSlate is that it eliminates the need to educate customers. But with all the world’s attention already so intensely focused, I don’t see the need to educate — only the need to amaze.

We’ll soon see which side of the brain won the debate.

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  • Jakob

    how about “Maclet” ?

    … Maclet sounds
    a bit like starlet,
    a bit like tablet,
    a bit like booklet (like an eBook Reader)

    sounds a bit smaller / more compact than traditional MacBooks

    and it features the “Mac” brand,
    (you would think of a tablet more as a computer than the iPhone for example…)

  • Jakob

    “Applet” would also be an interesting name for an Apple product
    (however, the association with Java applets would not be so good…)

    “The Mac Applet” or short: “The Maclet”

  • What would you call it?

  • ken segall

    @Jeff Decker:
    I figured someone would ask that :)
    In an attempt to cop out gracefully, I’ll just say that naming the tablet would be a great/fun challenge that deserves some serious thinking. And I didn’t get the job…

  • as long as they leave ‘Newton’ in the dust bin, it’ll be fine …

    iSlate (the name i’ve heard most often) isn’t too shabby, sort of modernizes the primitive drawing/communications tool … and it’s in step with all the other offerings, be they pods or phones or macs or books …

    whatever it is, we have roughly, what? a week to sit longer on the edges of our chairs?

  • I was lucky to have worked on the very first ‘laptop’ that I had ever heard of, in 1982 or so, at Hal Riney in San Francisco.

    It was called the ‘WorkSlate.’ Nolan Bushnell was the client and his company was Convergent Technologies.

    It was beautifully designed, and beyond what seemed possible at the time. Sadly the project got tangled up in manufacturing problems.

    I was a beginning art director at the time, and was speechless when Nolan bought the whole campaign I presented, right on the spot. I was so shy I’m sure I stammered through the whole thing.

    Can’t wait to see what emerges from Apple.

  • Please fix my typo! Thanks.

    And keep up the great work Ken!

    BTW – – Where’s my Super Bowl invitation?

  • ChuckO

    I don’t like iSlate. All slate connotations are bad for me. It makes me think of stone walkways and heaviness. iTablet’s boring. I like iBook which they own, right? iPad I liked initially but it has a weird feminine hygiene quality to it that people keep remarking on and is so similar to iPod. The conciseness of iPad seems good to me.

    The latest rumors are all about it being a shared family gadget for light computer work. Would something around sharing work or community?

  • Thanks for the magic typo fix!

    I think your take on the iPod was right.

    It doesn’t matter what Apple calls it.

    If they were a a new company, well then the name would have more importance.

    Or if they had powerful competition.

    It’s Apple – – the product itself will make the name great.

    I think I’d name it Steve.

  • ken segall

    I’d be surprised if it ended up as iPad. If you’re into the form factor part, iPad doesn’t sound any more substantial than an iPod. I’ve heard the iBook idea floated also, but that would surprise me even more. The idea of taking the name of a deceased product seems strange and un-Apple like. And if “family sharing” is part of the pitch, I’d also be surprised if the name went in that direction — since so many would use it as a personal device. But the guessing sure is fun, isn’t it?

  • T

    It pretty much has to start with “i” or contain “Mac”. And Apple probably isn’t considering this Mac’s little sister, but rather iPhone’s older cousin. Though I guess it’s both.

    iGuide is a name that has been rumored, which would fit the “creative tradition of iPod”, but without knowing exactly what the tablet will be and do, it’s hard to understand why it would be called a guide.

  • T

    What about naming it “Newton” though?

  • ChuckO

    Yea, I agree. It’s amazing what a trance Apple’s got us all in over this thing! I’m in the name doesn’t much matter camp at this point. I just hope slate isn’t part of it. I find that really grating. It’s also been picked up by so many competitors.

    Newton for me seems very “Sculley & Gassee” Apple and is associated with failure at this point. That would seem to be a real dark horse. I’d think iBook has a better chance at reuse than Newton and iBook as Ken posted probably has no chance.

    Wasn’t iGuide rumored to be some software, possibly a successor to iTunes?

  • ken segall

    I just can’t imagine any name being “recycled” for this thing. Seems like an odd thing to do for any company, let alone Apple. The iGuide name has been floating around lately, and I can’t say I have much of a heart for that either. Subjective, I know, but it feels un-magical to me. One reason why I’m hoping for something entirely unexpected is that none of the guesses so far seem intriguing enough. Some people are just never satisfied…

  • ChuckO

    Ken, I’m with you. Jobs doesn’t seem to have a sentimental bone in his body and short of sharing some lineage why would you reuse a name? I wouldn’t do it. You want to be moving forward.

  • T


    iCanvas? Mac Canvas? Canvas Mac? Or just Canvas?

  • rd

    You are assuming that only one product exists.
    It could be as much as three.

    iSlate – for home
    iPad – for travel
    iCanvas – for student/artist

  • John Brandon

    It won’t be the iSlate to distance themselves from the well known “slate” form factor that Microsoft promoted.

  • ChuckO

    The Apple Canvas works. Hopefully the i prefix has run it’s course. I think we all know devices need to work on the interwebs at this point. The i is superfluous.

  • ken segall

    That would be in gross violation of the Apple Rules of Simplicity.

  • Canvas, Canvas, Canvas.

  • Michael

    I agree with ChuckO that anything “-Slate” is not really gonna be good. Also, if they use Newton, a lot of the newer Apple/Mac users these days (many of whom are just kids) wouldn’t even understand the reference. Also, ChuckO’s thought that “Newton” invokes “Sculley/Gassee” Apple is right on.

    Also, iGuide is just silly. Unmagical indeed, Ken. Canvas? Maybe. I’m not sure I like that one, either.

    And, ChuckO, the “i for ‘i’nternet” thing was for the early iMacs, for sure, but I think it has long since ceased to stand for “internet.” I think now it’s more of an ‘i’dentifying mark than anything (sorry about that). It shows that what you’re looking at is an Apple product, y’know? I don’t think it’s run its course, not just yet. Thanks for a great post, Ken.

  • ChuckO

    Not that it’s a big deal but for me the “i” thing becomes an albatross you have to knock off at the point BEFORE it becomes old. I would draw the line now.

    Anybody with me? What does the guy who invented the “i” prefix think?

  • ken segall

    I think you’re right. Time to start letting it go. One of the things I love about Apple is its ability to walk away from a success — to replace it with a bigger success. (Like killing the bestselling iPod mini to bring us iPod nano.) However, this is not easily done with the i. You can be pretty sure the names iPod and iPhone won’t be going away anytime soon. And even though there would be logic in having MacBook/MacBook Pro and Mac/Mac Pro, it would be too confusing to remove the i from iMac — because every computer Apple sells is a Mac. I’m sure many at Apple are ready to move away from the i, but it would have to happen by attrition, as each i-product is replaced by something new. It will be interesting to see how Apple chooses to name the tablet. Because whatever their choice, it will speak volumes about the future of the i.