Sep 16

Apple’s self-inflicted naming dilemma

iphone-names2Uh-oh. I sense a disturbance in the Force.

iPhone 7 is coming. And if the rumors are true, the logic of iPhone naming will be soon be stress-tested.

Before we dig in, it’s important to note that the name of the new device is unconfirmed at this point. We have only an assumption based on iPhone naming history.

But that history is actually the problem.

According to the Sacred Scrolls, the iPhone model number only changes when the device gets a redesign. Yet the leaks indicate that iPhone 7 will be more of a “6SS” than a 7. That is, the only changes to the previous model will be internal.

The big rethink apparently arrives in 2017.

If Apple now unveils an iPhone 7, does this mean we’ll skip 7S next year and go directly to iPhone 8? Or will a 7S represent the next great rethink? The bigger question is: are we doomed to wander forever in a sea of letters and numbers representing varying degrees of newness?

If you’re starting to think this conversation is silly, I’m with you 100%. It’s silly because this whole S business was never necessary in the first place. In fact, it’s actually worked against Apple’s best interests.

To better appreciate this self-inflicted wound, let’s do a little forensic work. Continue reading →

Sep 15

Addendum to the iPhone “S” argument

dice-6Earlier this week, I expressed a distinct lack of love for the S-naming that Apple has applied to iPhone every other year.

My point was that by choosing this path, Apple has actually trained the world to believe S years are “off-years” that feature only minor innovations. This, when some of iPhone’s biggest advances have actually arrived in the S models.

As Exhibit A in my argument, I now submit yesterday’s BuzzFeed article entitled 20 Minutes With Tim Cook. More accurately, I submit a single paragraph neatly tucked mid-article. Here, John Paczkowski illustrates two reasons why Apple’s S naming is a bad idea (though he did so unintentionally): Continue reading →

Sep 15

Apple’s pre-holiday festival of stuff: afterthoughts

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.40.38 AMThe pre-holiday Apple event was only part of a much larger drama that’s been played out many times before.

First came the rumors. Then came leaks with substance. Then came the presentation — less surprising because of the leaks — which disappointed Wall Street and dropped the AAPL stock price. Then came a frenzy of articles pro and con, followed by a day-after bump in AAPL stock when Wall Street (momentarily) came to its senses.

What else could there possibly be to talk about? I’m sure we can think of something…

Adjective Overload

A frequent complaint of Apple event critics is the excessive use of hyperbole. Hard to argue this. Then again, when one unveils brand-new products, hyper-adjectives are just too tempting for mortal men. That’s how we humans show enthusiasm. Continue reading →

Oct 14

When in doubt, change the name

Way back in August, a story surfaced about a possible name change looming for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

It’s been echoing in my head (a lot of room in here), because changing a product name isn’t something that happens very often.

Now that Internet Explorer has reached Version 11, it’s an interesting time to ask for a restart.

There are normally two reasons why a company would want to change an existing product name.

Sometimes, they simply have no choice. Circumstances demand it. In other situations, the name change might be a bit more “recreational.” That is, it’s not mandatory, but the marketing guys believe the new name will make it an easier sell.

Before we pass judgment on poor Internet Explorer, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look a few classic name changes. Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

Apr 13

iPhone naming: when simple gets complicated

When Apple introduced the iPad 3 as “the new iPad” — dropping its number altogether — it gave Apple watchers something new to ponder.

Would the coming iPhone 5 simply be “the new iPhone”? Would Apple’s naming convention finally be applied equally across all product lines?

The answer, we soon discovered, was “no.” The new iPhone stubbornly held onto its number — even though iPod, iPad, iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro were living in a world where numbers had become excess baggage.

There was good reason, of course.

iPhone is sold differently. Since two previous models are still available when a new model is launched, the number is needed to distinguish one from the other. Consider it a necessary evil.

But once you accept that iPhone models can’t live without a model identifier, the question becomes: what should that identifier be? Continue reading →

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? Continue reading →

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.

Nov 10

Galaxy Tab: they love it, they love it not…

Samsung may have a way to go before they challenge Apple in its ability to simultaneously evoke extremes in love and hate.

But they’re off to a good start with the Galaxy Tab — which, unlike any non-Apple product I can remember, is doing a good job of splitting the better-known reviewers.

As most probably know by now, the Galaxy Tab (yes, that name will be on the year-end crappy name list) is a 7-inch touchscreen tablet running Android.

Gizmodo was quick to attack, headlining it as “a pocketable train wreck.” They explain, “Typically, the point of a compromise is to bring together the best of both sides. The Tab is like a compromise’s evil twin, merging the worst of a tablet and the worst of a phone.”

Wired would beg to differ. “Requires some retraining … but once you get it, it’s a pleasure to use.”

Engadget jumps right in to gush, “we can confidently say it’s the best Android tablet on the market … the first true competitor to Apple’s iPad.” This, of course, is curious given that Google itself does not recommend the current Android OS for use in tablets.

Despite reports that David Pogue (New York Times) loved the Galaxy Tab, he was actually a straddler. “The whole thing is superfast and a pleasure to use,” he says. But then he pounces on the negatives: poor battery life, few apps optimized for screen size, bad email config and a very high price (it’s more expensive than an iPad that delivers twice the memory, four hours more battery life and bigger screen).

Walt Mossberg (Wall Street Journal) is also in the middle. “iPad now has its first credible competitor …. On balance, however, I still prefer the iPad.”

Time Magazine had a review too, but I quote it here only for comic relief. “If you use the Galaxy Tab in the way Samsung advertises (and you certainly will), what is the point of having a smartphone? Smaller screen, shorter battery life, more expensive plan? The phone becomes expendable.” Call me odd, but I use my phone to make phone calls — which the Galaxy Tab does not do. (Update: Time has now cut this part out of their article.)

It will be interesting to see how the Galaxy Tab sells, especially since Steve Jobs has publicly proclaimed that 7-inch tablets are DOA.

And Steve would never fib, would he.