Naming Apple Products is a Fine Art

There is definitely an art to naming products -- as any Microsoft or Apple executive knows. Today, we learned about some candidate names Apple had for what we now call the iPhone, thanks to an article at 9to5 Mac. Some seemed oh-so rational at the time and now seem, well, just crazy.

Candidate names for the original iPhone, according to a former Apple advertising manager, Ken Segall, were:

  • Mobi
  • Tripod
  • Telepod
  • iPad

Looking back, compared to what we have today, several ideas emerge.

Symmetry. Products that start with the same "i" appear to be in a congenial, orderly family. That practice suggests that Apple was thinking ahead, even if they weren't. Or you could finish with the same term: iPod -> Tripod. But that can get you into trouble. How do you call a smart watch a "wristpod" with a straight face? But iWatch works.

Messaging. At one time, I proposed that the iPad mini be called the "iPad 7" in order to convey that it's in the same class as other 7-inch tablets. On the other hand, Apple probably felt that 1) that the iPad mini would be in a class by itself and 2) boxing themselves into a nomenclature that includes the screen size is asking for trouble down the road, 3) using a great, possibly leaked name (that gained favor), would induce comfort rather than alarm.

Number games. Tripod suggests the three major integrated features of the iPhone: music player, Internet and telephone. That's fine, perhaps, in some contexts, but when the result is another well known name, and a rather mundane one at that, "tripod," the downside can be considerable. Along those lines...

Snafus. As an aside, you have to watch out for plays on words that are negative. For example, before the iPad mini was even released, many suspected the iPad mini name, and it didn't take long for Jay Leno to make a joke about feminine hygiene products. Apple survived that. That's why I liked "iPad 7". It sounded NASA-esque. Another factor is the potential for unsavory or negative translations into other languages. And then there are existing trademarks to watch out for.

Original iPhone. Image Credit: Apple

Coolness factor. Mark Gurman at 9to5 wrote, "According to Segall, Apple considered calling the device 'Telepod' because it sounded like a futuristic twist to the word 'telephone.'” The same applied to "Mobi." That's a tough call for any executive. Trying to tie a product name to something that sounded cool and futuristic in the past can also smack of being old-fashioned and derivative. Sometimes, a new, original name is more futuristic than a throw-backs. Time always tells.

Acclimation. Certainly Apple could have selected one of these terms and, after six years, we'd all be inured to the term. So we mustn't laugh too hard at a term that wasn't selected and hasn't been heard from since. It could have happened and, in a sense, we would have been none the wiser.

In the end, Apple has always shown considerable taste (and luck) in the naming of its products. The names are cool without sounding like throw-backs or like they were artificially forced, and it always seems that there was some forethought -- even if there actually wasn't. Appearance matters.

Other corporations, as we well know, haven't been so lucky.