May 14

iWatch: Apple’s next naming drama?

Of all the product names in Apple history, by far the least surprising was iPhone.

After iMac, iPhoto, iMovie, iPod and iTunes, Apple had well established its i-rhythm. And the fact that Apple was feverishly working on a phone was one of its worst-kept secrets. For many months leading up to the device’s unveiling, the press was consumed with speculation about what an “iPhone” would be.

Behind the scenes, Steve Jobs was unwavering in his desire to call it iPhone. The fact that it fit well with other i-names was only part of it. In this case, he thought it was important for the name to instantly communicate the category to be disrupted.

Just one flaw in Steve’s plan: Cisco reportedly owned the name. It was already shipping a product called iPhone, though I’ve yet to meet or even hear of anyone who has ever seen one. It was a phone that made phone calls over the Internet, hooking into one’s home network.

Steve was aware of this. He had dispatched his legal team to negotiate with Cisco, and those negotiations went right up to the eve of the official iPhone launch. Inside Apple, new names were being tossed about in the event that the iPhone name had to be abandoned.

It could go to the last minute, because the iPhone unveiling was only that. The device wouldn’t ship for many months yet.

An agreement with Cisco was finally reached. The Cisco people were waiting for the signed document to be delivered on the morning of the event. They were still waiting after Steve did the unveiling, and the world was suddenly abuzz about this iPhone thing.

No one has spoken publicly about why Steve decided not to sign. After the fact, some reported that Cisco’s claim wasn’t as clear-cut as it appeared. Whatever the reason, Steve decided to shoot first and ask questions later.

Cisco responded by instantly filing a lawsuit. This turned out to be but a blip in iPhone’s history, as Apple and Cisco then negotiated a deal outside of court.

What does this have to do with iWatch? Well, there are a couple of parallels.

First, as product names go, iWatch is every bit as obvious as iPhone was. Apple would desire it for exactly the same reason: it clearly describes the category it is about to disrupt, and it echoes all the i-goodness that came before it. It’s a name that single-handedly does an awful lot of the heavy lifting for the marketing dept.

Second, securing the iWatch name may require some fancy footwork. According to Bloomberg there are more than 50 companies that can lay claim to the name. The biggest one of the bunch is Swatch, which has been marketing a product called iSwatch since 2009. Swatch is already making noise that the name iWatch will cause confusion in the marketplace.

Marketing globally is often complicated and tricky. We’ve heard that Apple has been busy trying to secure the name in various countries, but the lawyers will have to do battle on many fronts simultaneously. And remember, this is still a secret product. (Kind of.) If Apple were to negotiate with these companies, it basically acknowledges that the device will soon exist.

The smaller companies shouldn’t be too tough an obstacle for the mighty Apple. Swatch may be another matter.

That said, hearing Swatch complain does induce some rolling of the eyes. When Swatch launched its iSwatch, it obviously considered the rub-off it would get from an Apple branding element that had been famous for over a decade. They’ve already committed one crime against creativity — it would be a shame to see them rewarded for it.

Steve Jobs went ahead with the name iPhone because he knew that in the long run, whatever he had to pay up front was a drop in the bucket. Apple likely has the same attitude about iWatch.

Despite the threat of legal action, I doubt that anyone can stop the iWatch Express. In business, money can make a lot of problems disappear.

Last time I looked, Apple had a bit of it lying about.


  • I actually have Cisco’s iPhone. You have to look really hard to even find where Cisco uses “iPhone” – not on the phone itself. It’s somewhere buried in the packaging.

  • willo


  • Hamish

    Whether ‘iWatch’ describes the category it’s going to disrupt or not is still pretty uncertain. The final product may well be an advanced health monitoring band that can quite comfortably be worn alongside a designer watch, rather than instead of it. If that be the case, they may have another name already planned and are just getting iWatch registered wherever they can as well to a) cover name options; b) defend against competition using it and c) to throw competitors off scent. While it’s an obvious name choice, I don’t know that iWatch really captures what this device might do. Still, I can’t think of many great alternatives… But there again I don’t know exactly what it does! Perhaps they should call you for name ideas Ken!

  • mattack1

    “Cisco reportedly owned the name.”

    Wait, if a lawsuit was filed, a deal was made, etc., how can it “reportedly” own the name? It either did or didn’t.

  • ksegall

    No, iWatch doesn’t capture what the device will do. And neither did iPhone capture what that device could do. Steve felt that the name iPhone would frame it perfectly for customers so they could relate to it — and then blow away all other phones by being so much more.

    I think the same reasoning would apply to the iWatch. People will instantly get that it lives on your wrist — but with all the new capabilities it will change perceptions of what a watch can be.

    I’m not sure Apple would jump through all those hoops just to throw people off the scent, especially when everyone knows the product is coming anyway.

    But who knows…

  • ksegall

    There actually is an in-between. Facts are hard to come by in this caper, but if you nose around enough…

    One article long ago claimed that although Cisco had the product, it hadn’t taken all the steps needed to lay indisputable claim to the name — marketing, sales, copyright, whatever.

    What actually happened lends credence to that theory.

    If Apple saw any weakness in Cisco’s claim, obviously Steve would be emboldened.

    And if Cisco knew their claim was fuzzy, that would explain why they so quickly accepted a deal that netted them so little — when it was obvious that iPhone was going to make billions.

  • ksegall

    Let’s see a pic!

  • Prof. Peabody

    I can’t see how “iWatch” will be anything but a failure. I’m not saying it will be, just that all the known facts seem to be against it being anything other than a small, niche product even if it becomes successful.

    I’m actually curious as to what will happen here since it looks for all the world like Apple is rushing headlong into a gigantic mistake. History tells us they will pull a rabbit out of the hat, but history is not always a good indicator.

  • Andrew F

    All the known facts? I read all the rumors too, but I can assure you that Mark Gurman himself hasn’t painted the full picture of Apple’s wearable plans. But what would a new category-defining product launch by Apple be without a buncha people predicting its doom?

  • Andrew F

    Lol, I still remember the months before the first iPhone came out, most people were referring to it as the “iPod phone”. Little did they know…

  • SV650

    So it’s not really an *I* phone as a SKY(pe) Phone!

  • ksegall


    Now that cbee has shared the photos in her comment, I think I better understand why Apple felt pretty good about their chances. There is barely an “iPhone” anywhere in the packaging or product.

    They seemed to prefer calling it a “Cordless Internet Telephony Kit.” The handset itself didn’t even have the iPhone word on it — that only appeared on the little box that connected the handset to the internet.

    Thanks cbee!

  • LM

    Apple wearables will be rolled under the iPod name…

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  • Nameless Coward

    You could be right. The iPod may well be dead, long live the iPod.