Sep 14

Apple’s i prepares for retirement

At last week’s event, Tim Cook made it clear that Apple Pay and Apple Watch have an amazing future.

He made it equally clear that Apple’s little “i” has no future at all.

It’s difficult to draw any other conclusion, since iPay and iWatch would have fit so perfectly into Apple’s current naming scheme.

Hey, we all knew this day would come. The i had a long and fruitful life, but it’s time to start planning for the golden years.

The truth is, the idea of moving past the i had come up at various times inside Apple. In fact, I had a conversation with Steve Jobs on this very topic way back in 2006.

I was working on a project related to the building of the Apple Store Cube on Fifth Avenue in New York, so I was in the building a few hours before the Grand Opening. Steve was there for the festivities, and we had a private chat while standing at the iBook table.

As we gushed over the pretty new iBooks, the topic turned to the i.

At this time, the i was already nine years old. It had been well established with iMac, iBook, iTunes, iPod and all the i-apps (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD). But Apple’s explosive success with iPhone and iPad was yet to come.

Steve loved what the i had done for Apple, but he was starting to feel that it had run its course. He was in no hurry to change things, but he did not think that the i would live eternally.

Ironically, the biggest obstacle to getting rid of it was Apple’s very first i-thing — the iMac. Steve explained that if they took the i off of the iMac, it would just be a Mac — and that’s actually the name of the platform. Every Apple computer is a Mac.

One day we’d have to figure that out, he said.

Which brings us to the present. One could have a very good debate about the pros and cons of keeping the i.

After being attached to so many revolutions for the past 17 years, the i has become a super-powerful branding element for Apple. The downside is that Apple can never truly own it.

Companies around the world have created i-products and will continue to do so. Every new i-name from Apple invites legal challenges.

The Apple brand is one of the most valuable and most loved brands on earth. By going with the “Apple [name]” format, every new product would be directly connected to the master brand, and would be highly resistant to i-lawsuits.

Given these benefits alone, changing to the new format is incredibly tempting.

Then there is the design argument. Using the logo with a single word for each product is brilliantly simple, and again it would belong 100% to Apple. I imagine Jony Ive would vastly prefer the more stark format.

There are a number of inconsistencies in Apple product naming that would be wiped out if the i were to go. The iLife suite, for example, included iPhoto and iMovie, while the iWork suite contains Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Not an i in sight. And we already know that the new photo app coming in 2015 is simply called Photos.

We could also add the “welcome to the new era” argument here. Tim Cook’s job is to carry forward Steve Jobs’ values, while directing Apple on a new course. This new naming convention points clearly to a different-yet-exciting future.

It’s a good debate — but all indications are that the debate is over.

It’s difficult to come up with any explanation as to why Apple Pay and Apple Watch strayed from the i-format, other than the fact that the i is on its way out. It would be crazy to blaze ahead with Apple Pay and Apple Watch (and Apple TV) if new i-products were coming down the pike.

So, if Apple’s plan is to retire the i, what becomes of the current i-devices? Can they be renamed at the snap of a finger?

Of course they can. We were all so sure we’d be talking about an iWatch, and already the term “Apple Watch” feels natural. It would be just as easy to imagine an Apple Phone and an Apple Pad. There would be some squawking — but that kind of things dies down quickly.

If there is one obstacle in choosing this path, it’s same thing Steve Jobs mentioned back in 2006. What do we do with the iMac?

Personally, I wouldn’t waste too much brainpower on that one. Apple’s naming system is already inconsistent in certain places. If iMac were the lone i-survivor of a naming revolution, Apple’s naming philosophy would still be more unified than it is today.

So, good luck to you, little i. Enjoy your last days on the job.

And when you finally make it to the Apple home for retired names, send my best to the Macintosh Quadra.


  • I have no clue if the ‘i’ is on its way out, but I can think of other reasons for the names they introduced at the event.

    “iPay” puts too much emphasis on just who is parting with their hard-earned money. “I pay? Oh my, I don’t want that!”

    Apple has such a strong brand and respect from consumers of all sorts of tax brackets who all appreciate quality and design, and will pay more for it*, but still, iDevices are known as being entirely consumer-oriented. I have a hard time imagining a $3,000+ “iWatch” (which is what I imagine the “Edition” collection will run). I think they had to link the watch more strongly with their most valuable possession—their brand itself—than the consumer-oriented preconceptions of the iDevice lineup.

    Just my 2¢.

    *not telling you anything you don’t already know, I’m aware ;)

  • Namelesscoward

    Mac Mini, Mac, Mac Pro & Mac books. Can’t say Mac is the odd on. Nice line up.
    I regard OS X and iOS platforms, besides in the end hardware will converge more than software will, in that the software be more distinctive and adapted to the task. Hardware becomes an afterthought in the future.

    Apple OS.

    If Apples patents reflect current R&D projects, then Apple OS is on the horizon.

    iSis iSil some variations Al Qaeda hasn’t tried yet.
    Or i of Sauron where Al Qaeda sorry iSis are the Orcs trollin.. Oh wait Tolkien understood the truth most rather believe fairy tails. iKnow.

  • Namelesscoward

    Hint: Steve thought the iNaming convention had run its course.
    Bonus; Ken Segall, the man who dropped the i in there, agrees.

    Tip: Apple is the brand, not its iDevices. Then following your reasoning there is not contradiction in naming the Apple Watch.

  • I wasn’t arguing or disagreeing with Ken one bit. I love reading his viewpoint; I was just adding additional thoughts on why “i” names would be inappropriate in this case (IMO) even if they weren’t being phased out in general.

  • This whole “i”everything is your damn fault to begin with… :)

  • I like the  prefix. But even here there’s inconsistencies. TV is an acronym for television, and the logo is tv (lowercase). Watch is an English word, and the logo is WATCH (all uppercase). It hurts my brain.

  • And Pay is mixed case, and is aligned differently next to the logo compared to both WATCH and tv.

  • My head almost exploded.

  • ksegall

    Good points. For all the thought Apple puts into naming, sometimes the results are puzzling.

    Still far better than most companies — but definitely not perfect.

  • Stefan

    Apple actually filed four different trademarks for «Apple Watch» in Switzerland — each written differently

  • BingoJoe

    It would be foolish for Apple to retire the iPhone. Many iPhone owners I know place no real value in the Apple name, but do in the iPhone name. To them, Apple is a kind of corporate mother ship. And there really isn’t any need to reinvent the wheel.

    Diet Coke, Big Mac… Lots of names have successfully endured.

    The problem with the iMac isn’t the name, it’s the product — it’s a desktop, and the industry seems to be heading mobile centered. This makes the iMac a problem product, certainly not a problem name. I know many people who are very proud of their beautiful 27″ super slim iMac desktop. And they don’t seem to be in a hurry to take it off their desk either.

    The product name Apple Watch is terrible, it sounds like an old corporation’s tribute product.

    Rolex, Swatch, Omega, Citizen, Seiko, Movado, Raymond Weil, TAG Heuer,
    Breitling, Cartier… Well established, and already defining the product category.

    I can see it now… Sitting in a boardroom and pulling back my sleeve to check the time on my… Apple Watch.

    What a sad follow-up the brilliance of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone. For me, it’s just another indication that Apple’s is lacking in leadership.

    What the Apple brand needs is to become the Procter & Gamble of the tech industry, a solid corporation with great brands/products.

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  • Peter Risberg

    The naming is inconsistent in the product line today. If Apple plans to get rid of the i in the name of products then they have to be consistent in the naming of the products to come and for those who already exists.

    – Mac line
    MacBook AIR
    MacBook PRO
    Mac PRO
    Mac MINI

    – Apple line
    Apple PHONE
    Apple PAD
    Apple POD
    Apple TV
    Apple WATCH

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