Jul 12

Google echoes Apple’s little lapse

Uh… so is it “play” or “Play”?

For the most part, Apple’s product naming is extremely logical. Computers are Macs and consumer products are i-devices.

Customers know the language and the brand is reinforced at every turn.

But you don’t have to dig too deep before things the logic shows a few cracks. The Consistency Police, even under Steve Jobs, seemed to flip-flop when it came to the second word in a product name. Sometimes it’s uppercase, sometimes it’s lowercase.

We have Mac Pro and Mac mini. MacBook Air and iPod nano. There’s a Cinema Display and Thunderbolt Display — and now there’s a Retina display. What exactly is the rule again?

Personally, I’ve always appreciated what Apple tried to do in using the lowercase word to differentiate sub-models in a product line. It looks human and understated. However, nice as it may feel on an Apple web page, it struggles out in the real world. Many who write about Apple products ignore the “official” spelling and capitalize both words anyway. I imagine that they do this because otherwise it just doesn’t read like it’s a product name. In effect, they’re “fixing” it for Apple.

You could easily defend one approach or the other. What’s hard to defend is bouncing back and forth between different naming styles.

These days Apple has some stiff competition in the off-logic naming department. Google appears determined to prove it can be equally inconsistent.

In fact, with Google Play — I mean Google play — it’s raising the flag of inconsistency higher than Apple ever did. It’s using both variations simultaneously on the same web page.

The Google Play logo features the lower case play, but three other references on this page use the uppercase Play — including one that’s directly above the play in the logo (image above).

And Google, like Apple, has created more than one inconsistency across its product lines. Looking at its logos alone, you’ll see Google play and Google images, and at the same time you’ll see Google Docs, Google Drive and Google Calendar.

I know, I know. This is a tiny issue in the scope of things. Who cares if a company gets a little wacky in capitalizing its product names as long as long as its products are great, right?

Wrong. One big reason why Apple has succeeded in such spectacular fashion is because it normally obsesses on tiny details, even the ones people may not notice consciously. That’s what makes its few naming inconsistencies so curious. Fortunately, the Apple brand is so powerful that such things are forgiven.

These little lapses by both Apple and Google can be valuable lessons for other companies. Creativity is an important part of naming products, but so is consistency. It helps people understand a company’s vocabulary.

And best of all, it doesn’t cost a cent.

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  • Mikhailovitch

    No. Apple’s not inconsistent in this respect, you’ve just mis-read their system. “mini” and “nano” in the product names are size descriptors, and they both mean  “small”. Hence, lower case to emphasise the smallness.

  • ksegall

    Not quite: iPod classic, iPod touch, Retina display … those aren’t exactly “small” concepts.

  • Joat

    Nouns versus adjectives?

    It seems to me they are being consistent in terms of how the word is being used. 

    Mini, nano, classic are being used as adjectives. 

    Professional and Air are meant as nouns and capitalized. As in “Professional Engineer.”

    Standalone displays are proper nouns. Thunderbolt Display, Cinema Display. The laptop has a display which meets the Retina standard. Hence a “Retina display.” If it were a standalone display, it would be a “Retina Display.”

  • ksegall

    Apple normally names products in a way that requires little or no explanation.

    I seriously doubt that they have any rules of capitalization for adjectives vs. nouns. Especially since most of the words we’re talking about are commonly used both ways. I always thought the “pro” in MacBook Pro was an adjective, not a noun — in that the “pro” is descriptive of this model’s power.

    You believe it’s a noun, yet you use the example of “professional engineer” — where pro is actually an adjective. So I don’t think the rules you lay out meet Apple’s “simplicity standard.”

    Over the years, I’ve had this conversation with a number of people, some of them inside Apple. To be honest, I haven’t heard a simple, clear explanation yet.

  • This was an interesting read, Ken. How did you begin noticing the inconsistencies?

  • ksegall

    Just part of the job!