Dec 10

Smartphone naming: a royal mess

It’s a jungle out there.

Thanks to model proliferation, there now exist more smartphones than any mortal could possibly distinguish between.

Hell, I dug up 52 of them on the carriers’ sites in a matter of minutes.

The problem is, every model needs a name — something that will make it stand out and enhance the parent brand. That’s a tall order when you’re churning out models like a donut factory.

Everyone knows about Droid and iPhone. But what do you know about Snap, Imagio and Flipout? Uh huh. Just as I thought.

Apple had it easy (legal problems with Cisco aside). They make i-things, they make a phone, no-brainer — iPhone. Other companies aren’t so lucky. With every new phone, they reach deeper into their bag of naming tricks. Often with laughable results.

Here’s your executive overview:


These guys have such an array of names, you could write your own short story with them:

Behold the Moment when the Vibrant and important Exec discovered how to Fascinate, Captivate and Mesmerize his minions — despite the fact that he didn’t know Jack. Unfortunately, he had a tragic failing. He chose to Focus on Blackjack. It’s a shocking Saga, an Epic tale that is sure to Transform you, possibly even Propel you into the space-time Continuum itself.


Infuriatingly, HTC won’t let us play that game. But their names are not without entertainment value:

Hero. My phone? I think not.
Desire. Yes, the name makes me want one.
Snap. Next up: Crackle and Pop?
Surround. Please, I need my space.
Touch Cruise. Tom’s brother?
Dash. A bigger idea than Hyphen.
Shadow. Of its former self?
Aria. Makes me burst into song.
Eris. A thinly veiled Eros. Subliminal advertising!
Imagio. Uh, Italian-flavored imagination?
Pure. I can only imagine the word that follows.
Ozone. Is there a hole in it?
Tilt. Damn. Game over.
Evo. Okay, they got one. This works.
Droid Incredible. As distinct from Motorola’s Droid X. It’s a time-sharing thing.


These guys are major laggards. A scant six names for us to play with. They seemingly care more about making things easier for their customers than amusing people like me. Here’s what we have to work with:

Vortex. Just trying to suck us in.
Apex. Planet of the…?
. For the Transformer crowd.
Fathom. Try as I may, I can’t.
Ally. We could all use one.


Again, disappointment. Only six models. Don’t they understand my need for blog fodder?

Torch. Not bad, actually.
Style. If you have to say you have it, you don’t have it.
Curve. Depends on what side of it you’re on.
Bold. Not.
Tour. Bleh.
Storm. I actually like this one.


[Changed first paragraph to reflect correction in comments. Thanks, Neil.] In 2009, Motorola struck the deal with Lucasfilms Ltd. to license the name Droid — which gave them a great name to fight iPhone with. Never mind that five months later, HTC struck their own deal with Lucas to come out with the Droid Incredible. Whatever, the end result is that the name Droid isn’t exactly funneling its brand goodness to one specific company. However, Motorola does get extra points for shipping a Droid R2D2 model. Guess Lucasfilm tacks on an extra charge for that.

Despite the fact that were first in the Droid game, Motorola ultimately falls victim to the siren call of naming absurdity. They have the Devour, which sounds like it might hurt you. And the Citrus, which, tart and tangy as it may be, has no apparent connection to phones.

Someone in Motorola’s naming department has a flipping fetish, as we get the Backflip, Flipout and Flipside. Why no Flipper? They could have bought those rights cheap.

Then they have a few stragglers. There’s Cliq, which apparently didn’t. Charm, which may or may not be lucky. And the rebel of the group: Defy.


Not to be left out of the humiliation race, HP makes a bold entry with the iPaq Glisten. No comment required.

Bottom line: I empathize with the plight of these companies. It takes thought and talent to come up with a good name. Then again, this mess is of their own making. Does any phone maker really need to make 14 smartphones? Can anyone possibly tell them apart?

They always make the argument that they are delivering choice, but what they do not deliver is profit. Apple dwarfs them all in revenue by offering just a single brand of smartphone.

Might there be a lesson in there somewhere? Nah.

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  • Nice… :D

  • neilw

    The Droid Incredible is from HTC, not Motorola (same for the Droid Eris). The Droid moniker is (AFAIK) a Verizon trademark, licensed from Lucasfilm, so they can “annoint” whichever Android phones they want as “Droids”. Thus far it’s been mostly Motorola, but not exclusively.

  • I was watching a TED talk the other on the problem with having too much choice. The conclusion was the too much choice “paralyses” people. I think that could easily happen when you walk into a phone store and see 15 different android phones all with very similar features.

    Bottom line, iphone.

  • PRGetty

    Awful cheeky this morning, Sir Segal. We likes our names and don’t see a porblem with it as it exists. Back off please.

  • Drew

    The interesting thing is, most of these are the same phone. The reasoning behind it is that the carriers want to differentiate and say they have different/somehow better offerings. The worst really is Samsung. There are a multitude of Galaxy-S phones on offer that are almost identical, but have different names (with a “Galaxy-S” marking somewhere in the area). I can see the heads of suburban mom’s spinning now-
    Clerk: Can I help you?
    Mom: Yes, I want a Galaxy S.
    Clerk: Well, we have the Samsung _____.
    Mom: I want a Galaxy S, not the _____.
    Clerk: Well, it is a Galaxy S, just named the _____.
    Mom: My son told me to get a Galaxy S. I better go ask him. I might come back later.

  • ken segall

    You are indeed correct about the Droid Incredible being from HTC. I will correct the post. (I already had Eris right, so one out of two ain’t bad.) But the Droid trademark is owned by Lucasfilm and appears to be licensed to Verizon, Motorola and HTC, if you go by the legal type on their individual websites. Love to know now much Lucasfilm takes in from all of this…

  • I think you miss the point slightly by making fun of the name. The problem here is not whether we like a given name or not, as that is (most often) very subjective.

    What’s problematic here is the sheer amount of products. I quit like HTC’s names. They are much better than for example Nokia 5320 or similar. The Desire, which is quite a popular phone in Europe, is a decent name – and more importantly, it’s something you can refer to when talking to friends, family etc. So a simplistic name is important and necessary to spread the word-of-mouth and always makes it much easier to market.

    However, complicating your line-up is only gonna bring problems. HTC have had some decent ones with Hero, Desire – but they’ve also released a wealth of needless phones with names that nobody’s gonna remember. What’s even worse is that they don’t seem to take notice of how important simplicity can be in consumer choice, so they’ve just decided to negate recent successes by introducing a Desire HD and a Desire Z to the “Desire Family”.

    Companies have to stop trying to be everything to everybody. It’s about doing something good, and then focusing on doing that thing or two very good.

  • ken segall

    Absolutely, there are two separate issues here. One is the naming (which you can agree with or not), the other—as you mention—is the glut of models that companies present to their customer. It’s almost impossible to keep your brand pure, or build a valuable sub-brand, when you’re juggling 10-15 balls at once. Naming is definitely subjective, but I will stick by my opinion: most of these names are horrendous.

    I’ve always found it interesting that the means by which Apple became the #1 technology company on earth is so obvious, yet no one seems to learn the lesson. Simplicity works wonders. It’s within the power of every company to make things simpler for their customers. But so few do.

  • Cory

    I guess the iPhone got all the others to wake up though… it’s better then it was with the BlackBerry 8130 and Nokia 2650… at least they are starting to use names people can actually associate with and more importantly remember.

    I can’t wait to the new Blackberry 8310… it’s a whole 180 better then the previous model… wait… those are different lines… oops!

    Now the model numbers are just used as model number (for servicing, etc.) … not to market the product.

  • ElectricMonk


    Horizontal Slider.

    (Maybe) Vertical Slider.

    (Maybe) Blackberry/Palm Pixi type device.

    Refresh once a year, keep the same names, don’t let the carriers change the names/specs/looks (i.e. Galaxy S) except, obviously, GSM/CDMA.

    Update with the latest Android/Windows Phone 7[1] software the moment it’s out. If using an Android skin, make it subtle and elegant and update within one month and let customers know their update is coming.


    [1] If you’re Palm, pull it together, release a Pixi 2 with the same specs as the Pre 2, and release a new top-of-the-line slate with better-than-iPhone4-specs yesterday. The Pre 2 is a joke.