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.