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.

Sep 10

Apple hits the high notes

Fans of over-analysis surely enjoyed the rumors about what was going to happen at yesterday’s Apple event. Thankfully, that’s all behind us now. It’s time to start over-analyzing what really happened. Here’s my contribution:

Live streaming. Welcome back! After five years, it was good to see you again. If this was a real-world test of Apple’s new billion-dollar server farm as some speculated, I’d give it a 95% rating. The video was fantastic, except for a few glitches. Just need one little tweak in Server #11,355. (Update: See comment below. This may have been Akamai’s technology, not Apple’s.)

The Perky Factor. Haven’t seen Steve this “on” in a while. He was enthusiastic, animated and funny. That’s entertainment.

iOS 4.1. Kudos for fixing the two unforgiveables: (1) the proximity sensor, and (2) the horrid performance on iPhone 3G. Wireless printing is cool, but I’m most anxious to try out the HDR photo feature. You haven’t gotten me to leave my pocket camera at home yet.

iPod shuffle. Feels like a “do-over.” Has any new iPod ever been larger than the model it replaced? Buttons are back. Remote/earphone combo is gone. Much, much better. Apple design leads the industry, but on occasion it does lead them astray.

iPod nano. Holy cow. Home run. Out of the park. Love it to death. Apple will sell a ton of these in the holiday season. Who among us can resist the lure? Just don’t think you slipped this one by us, Apple: Last year, all your marketing was about the cool new video feature, this year you’ve removed it. We’ll let this one slide, only because it wasn’t real video anyway (not HD) and this mini-touchscreen is just too damn cool.

iPod touch. iPhone 4 set us up for this one. It’s exactly what everyone expected: Retina display, dual cameras and FaceTime. And let’s have a big hand for the A4 chip, which is now powering iPod, iPhone and iPad. Nice and snappy.

iPod prices. Our traditional deal with Apple has always been “more features, same price.” Is it my imagination, or are these prices creeping upward? Cue Darth Vader: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.”

iPod ads. When a company gets big and successful, nobody wants to be the one to screw it up. So you begin to stick with things simply because “they work” — even though the younger, brasher version of yourself wouldn’t have thought twice about shaking things up. The new ads are perfectly fine. They’re just awfully familiar. In fact, the new touch ad (click in the image above and skip to 35:40) is virtually a carbon copy of the 2009 touch ad and the 2008 touch ad — except now FaceTime is added at the end.

iTunes 10. Ping is a huge, huge, huge addition. Until now, Apple has been more of a bystander in social media, and Ping puts them right in the thick of it. Or at least closer to the thick of it. Following friends’ discoveries and following your favorite artists is one of those “why didn’t they think of this before” kind of things. Perfect. I’m already signed up and horrifying my friends with my musical taste.

Zing! Bing! Ping! But can we talk about the Ping thing? Since when does Apple go with a me-too product name? Zing was an embarrassing failure for Dell. Microsoft is putting millions behind Bing at this very moment. Surely there’s a better word in that dictionary somewhere.

AppleTV. Huge step in the right direction, giving us access to Netflix, movies, TV shows, all those good things. $99 is a great price. Its tiny form is impressive, though in practical use not a terrific benefit. It’s still another box with cables sticking out of it. Question: what happens to my current AppleTV? It’s not like Apple to render a product obsolete so quickly. May I have a credit, please?

All in all: great show, Apple. Thank you for a fun and interesting afternoon. Just make sure you terrify the right people in the lead-up to the next show. Your secrets seem to be leaking more and more these days…

Jun 10

Welcome, iPhone 4

Despite the lost prototype fiasco, I thought the iPhone 4 intro was still pretty darn interesting. Guess there’s a bit of a difference between Gizmodo ripping the cover off and Steve Jobs walking us through the features. Some quick reactions to the phone, the event and the marketing:

A4 processor. Thank you! If iPhone performance = iPad performance, I will be euphoric.

24% thinner. Excellent. I hereby cease secretly envying my son’s iPod touch.

FaceTime, the technology. Totally love it. Dual switchable cameras and no-setup software are so very Apple. And tremendously cool.

FaceTime, the video. Anyone notice that Apple seems to be getting sappier as it gets bigger? I miss the edgier stuff. Whatever, maybe I know too much about how ads get made for my own good. Since the phone isn’t shipping yet, I assume we’re looking at actors from central casting getting misty-eyed on cue. But that’s just me.

iPhone 4, the video. Polished and professional. But, as noted in the past, these launch videos have become formulaic. Same cast of characters, familiar hyperbole. Wish they’d stray just once to prove it can be done. Apple = creativity.

The Glitch. It’s a shame, but meaningless in the end. Once, when Bill Gates publicly suffered a horrible tech problem on stage, we agency mischief-makers turned it into a 30-second ad for Apple. Steve wasn’t interested. “This stuff happens to all of us,” he said. Let’s see if the courtesy is returned.

Renaming the OS. In a post back at launch time, I thought it odd that something called iPhone OS would power things that weren’t phones. That mismatch is indicative of the thinking in effect when the moniker was selected. This was just a no-brainer — with three i-devices running the same OS, the new name is perfect. iOS forever.

Retina Display. Can’t wait to see it in person.

5-Megapixel Camera. Pixels aren’t everything, but all the camera improvements together should bump up the quality nicely. I may actually start using this camera.

iMovie. I love surprises. iMovie for iPhone was a good one. In glorious 30fps 720p. Well done.

Unified Mailbox. Good lord, what took you so long.

Folders. My app screens had become agonizingly complicated. Much appreciated.

iBookstore. Will please many, but not me. I’ve tried to read on an iPhone and it’s too damn tiny. If the gods meant us to read on iPhone, they would never have given us iPad.

Mar 10

Vivaz arrives: beware, miscreants!

Sony-Ericsson is about to ship their newest entry into the smartphone market — a Symbian-based little fella.

Not sure about the phone yet, but clearly S-E senses a pending attack by the world’s copyright infringement community. That moniker is sporting as horsey a TM as I’ve ever seen in my life.

Hint to Sony: there’s no legal requirement that your TM be visible from across the room. And with a name like Vivaz … well, I think it’s safe to go on low-alert with this one.

Feb 10

The case of the missing monikers

Do you know this thing?No one denies the power of brands. We silly humans are just happier buying from “the better brand.” That’s why companies like Archos struggle to get noticed in the shadow of stronger brands like HP. And a brand like Apple can more easily venture into new markets with such fanfare.

Some companies have sub-brands that are as just as powerful as the master brand. For example, iPod is as big a deal for customers as Apple. While Vostro is but a distant echo of Dell.

There are endless ways to build a brand or sub-brand. One old favorite is to stick the word right in your customer’s face. Put it on the product where people have to stare at it every day. Interesting to note, though, that some of the stronger sub-brands don’t even bother.

iMac is a good example. For all of Apple’s design elegance, this baby had long touted the super-sized “iMac” on its backside, big enough to be seen from a block away. Now it’s gone altogether. All we get is an Apple logo under the front bezel. Still fairly jumbo, but no iMac word. Yet no one overlooks the fact that Apple sells iMacs.

In fact, you don’t see a product name on any of Apple’s desktop computers, from Mac mini to Mac Pro. Just a logo. Is that because Apple is actively shifting us to think of Apple first, and the sub-brand second? Or simply because the sub-brand has become so powerful, it doesn’t need to be so flagrant anymore? Once you figure that out, you can start wondering why MacBook, iPod and iPhone are clearly labeled by both product name and Apple logo.

Obviously, the way you adorn your products reflects an overall strategy. It says something about how you wish your customers to think of you — but it also demonstrates how you think of your customers. If you respect them enough, you’ll treat them to a little simplicity.

Feb 10

When good names go bad

Was this really necessary?

Congratulations to Comcast on taking the #1 position in Time’s “Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes.”

Unlike those who seem to have been made physically ill by the name Xfinity, I actually don’t have a problem with it — even if it does sound like a Hugh Hefner production. Lots of successful companies have names that get scorched in their fledgling state. My problem is the basic idea of it. The obvious question being: why bother? It’s a massive, costly effort for no apparent reason. The kind of thing shareholders get very nasty about.

Instead of investing their money to polish a brand with instant name recognition, Comcast will now squander untold millions to re-educate customers by advertising, repainting countless vans, and revamping systems and materials across the organization. It’s such an odd decision, you start wondering if there’s some deep, dark secret we don’t know about. On the circumstantial evidence, we’ll have to find Comcast guilty of brand-squandering in the first degree.

Another item on Time‘s list is a personal favorite. Last fall, Sci-Fi Channel changed its name to Syfy.

Ah, this changes everything

Unlike Comcast, these guys were facing a real marketing issue. Their audience growth rate had hit a ceiling. They needed to extend their programming beyond conventional sci-fi to attract a more varied audience — but the name Sci-Fi Channel was a turn-off to the non-dweeb crowd. They needed an idea.

That brilliant idea was a new name that’s pronounced exactly like the old name — just spelled differently. I can only imagine the conversations that result. “You gotta see this great new show tonight — it’s on Syfy Channel,” followed by, “Nah, I hate sci-fi.” Even when you see a promo on TV, you still pronounce it “sci-fi” in your head. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when someone pitched this idea.

Other interesting tales on Time’s Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes pages.

Feb 10

iPad: a long time coming (or not)

What did Apple know, and when did it know it?

Ever wonder exactly how far ahead Apple sees into the future? Some have suggested that iPad was in development for years.

You may be tempted to file this under “Things We’ll Never Know.” But in the case of iPad, the answer may not be too hard to divine.

Stand back and let me interrogate the witness on this one:

Q. Good morning. Would you be so kind as to identify the name of iPhone’s operating system when it was launched in 2007.
A. Yes, that would be OS X.

Q. And explain to the court why you chose that name.
A. It was to distinguish iPhone from Mac. It was OS X vs. Mac OS X.

Q. I see. And where were you on the evening of March 27, 2008?
A. I don’t remember.

Q. Allow me to refresh your memory. That was the date Apple released the iPhone Developer’s Kit — and changed the name of iPhone’s operating system from OS X to iPhone OS.
A. Oh, right. I remember that now.

Q. Uh huh. And when you chose the name iPhone OS, were you aware that Apple was already working on a revolutionary new kind of computer, a tablet that would be based on the same operating system?
A. I, uh, don’t recall.

Q. You’re under oath, sir.
A. Okay, okay. I remember now. Yes, I was aware of that.

Q. And did you not consider the absurdity of putting something called iPhone OS into a revolutionary product that was not a phone?
A. Uh… yeah, that did kind of strike me, yes.

Q. Why on earth then, sir, would you not choose a name that would allow just a little flexibility in the future… OS X Mobile, perhaps?

Q. Hello?
A. Uh … I’ll take the Fifth.

Q. No further questions, Your Honor.

My point is, Apple has always demonstrated tremendous common sense. It’s just hard to believe they’d choose the name iPhone OS if iPad was already on the drawing board. My inner Sherlock tells me iPad wasn’t even a twinkle in Apple’s eye until well after March, 2008. That’s still plenty of time to make one hell of a device — but not nearly as much time as some have suggested.

Feb 10

Suing Apple for fun and profit

Fujitsu iPad: no multitouch — just multibutton

Take that, Apple. Turns out Fujitsu makes an iPad too. And by my count, it has 24 more buttons than yours. Okay, so their touchscreen is a tad smaller (3.5 inches), but they did start selling this little eyesore long before iPad was a twinkle in your eye (2002). Their lawyers are currently huddling to consider a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, they’re talking tough in China too.

Hey Apple! You stole our design!

Shenzhen Great Loong Brother Industrial Co., Ltd. believes iPad is way too similar to their magical P88 Tablet PC — which itself looks way too similar to Apple’s iPhone. “We don’t understand,” says company executive Huang Xiaofang, “why did they make the same thing as us?” Some mysteries may never be solved. Yet they’re considering a lawsuit as well.

But wait, there’s more.

Sorry, it's just so confusing

Lingerie maker Coconut Grove Pads owns the right to market iPad-brand padded bras — so they’re a bit shaken by Apple’s new baby too. And they may have a case. One can only imagine the loss of income these guys would suffer as confused bra shoppers accidentally purchase an Apple iPad instead.

How times have changed. In days of old (AAPL @ $14), there just wasn’t much incentive to sue Apple. There’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone. But man, that $29 billion in cash reserves today looks pretty darn appetizing.

I do hope the courts find no merit in these cases. It would totally pop my bubble if I were to discover that Jony Ive found his inspiration on Shenzhen Great Loong Brother Industrial Co.’s website.

Jan 10

iPad: the day after

First the Jesus phone, now this?

Some stream-of-consciousness thoughts about yesterday’s launch of iPad:

Understatement of the day. CNN included this statement in their pre-event coverage: Apple CEO Steve Jobs is said to have taken an active role in the development of the company’s rumored tablet device.

The name iPad. It had been growing on me prior to launch. Back-rationalizing aside (or is that back-pedaling?), there’s a lot of logic to it. My idealized version of Apple just isn’t quite so logical. The good news is: the name is short, heavily branded and looks damn good on the device. Remember, names are only scrutinized at the beginning. After that, they’re just names. (Google? Get out.) And yes, this does give our little friend i a new lease on life.

Home-grown processor. A double big deal. Those who played with iPad after the show reported that it’s wicked fast. Even better, Apple makes the A4 processor themselves. That’s a ton cheaper than buying it from Intel, and clearly the main reason it’s as affordable as it is. Good name, too. I can just imagine the conversation. “It’s Apple’s first processor, so let’s call it A1.” “Nah, doesn’t sound very advanced. A4 is three generations faster.”

Leaks hurt. When product details leaked in advance of past Macworld shows, the event never seemed quite as exciting. Yesterday felt a bit like that — because so much about iPad had been rumored or predicted with fair accuracy. iPhone looked nothing like the rumors had it.

Professional jealousy. I know from experience that all this fanfare and anticipation often grates on other technology companies. “5% of the market share, 95% of the PR,” they moan. Hey, nothing’s stopping Dell from holding a major press event to announce their newest Inspiron.

User switching. iPad feels like the perfect device to keep on the coffee table for the whole family to use. So how does email work when you pass the device to another user? Log off/log on? Fast user switching? Just curious.

Category overload. Steve took special care to present iPad as a third category of product, positioned between iPhone and MacBook. He even concluded the show by asking “do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?” I get that. Not to be a stickler, but Steve did introduce iPhone three years ago as Apple’s third category of products. Those are the product tabs currently on (Mac, iPod, iPhone). So how many categories of product does Apple now sell? Three or four? Will the tabs on the website change, or does iPad join forces with iPhone? (Even though it is actually more similar to iPod touch.)

Multitasking. Missing in action. Big problem. Especially when even Droid is out there multitasking its little heart out. iPad runs zillions of apps — but only one at a time. Fix, please.

No camera. Big problem #2. How can you have offer such a natural, trend-setting, socially-minded device without the ability to video chat? Probably some physical reason why, but Apple has bent the laws of physics before.

Where’s iLife ’10? Okay, so I was wrong about this prediction. But now that I am humbled, I do remember how Mac OS X was once delayed for six months because Apple’s software resources were focused on developing iPhone. We have to remember that Apple isn’t Microsoft. (Like that’s tough to remember.) They don’t have thousands of programmers. When they have a major challenge, it’s all-hands-on-deck time. Maybe we’ll get a new iLife by spring? I will continue to predict until I get it right.

Apple logo. Is that big Apple logo on the back facing the right way? It’s correct in portrait position, but it’s sideways in landscape position. The images on seem to be a 50-50 mix of vertical and horizontal orientation, so there is no right or wrong here. I think it’s time for the world’s first accelerometer-based swiveling logo.

Questionable icon. My eyes, my eyes. What’s with the iBooks icon? Click the right arrow on the iPad Gallery page to see the icon lineup. They’re all colorful and beautifully designed — until you get to iBooks. It’s Zune brown, and feels a few decades behind. Can we send that one back?

Overall: iPad has a lot to love, but nirvana is still up the road apiece. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — Apple’s starting point is light years beyond the other guys’ ending point.