From iMac to iSad: The brand names of Steve Jobs

[Cache – #42]
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iSad. iRIP.  These were just two of the expressions of grief and tribute circulating on Twitter last night to the late Steve Jobs.  On the surface they may seem simplistic.  But that is precisely the point.  They are a fitting testament to Jobs’ genius for usability that extended beyond the products he created and into the names he gave them.
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These Tweets’ ancestry traces to 1976, the year in which Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak chose their company name.  Accounts of its origin give a variety of possible, and possibly related, explanations.  In one version, the name came from Jobs’ love of apples, perhaps tied to his job on a California apple farm after high school.  According to that account, Jobs even experimented with an all-apple diet after dropping out of college – “believing it might eliminate the need for him to bathe.  It didn’t.”
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It is also said that Jobs’ love of the Beatles inspired him to borrow the name of their Apple record label.
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The original Apple logo, used only in 1976, depicted an apple about to drop on the head of Sir Isaac Newton, “considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived.”  Part of the Newton legend is his witnessing an apple falling from a tree, and that the event inspired his groundbreaking theories of gravity.  The analogy for Jobs was presumably that his company was organized around the quest for world-changing ideas.  By this interpretation – given further credence by the Apple Newton – the next 35 years would prove the Apple name could not have been more fitting.
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a history of apple brand names
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The choice of Apple as the company name presented a rich tableau of opportunities for naming Apple products and services.  Yet Jobs and Wozniak initially followed a conservative naming strategy.  Their first product was a personal computer simply called the Apple I (“Apple One”).  Not a brilliant name, but very easy to remember and thus understandable as part of a necessity to create company awareness.  And Apple I was nevertheless different in the context of its competitors’ boring names – for example the Altair 8800 and TRS-80.
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a history of apple brand names - apple 1
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Apple’s second and third personal computers, the Apple II and Apple III, perpetuated a conservative naming approach.  But the release of the Lisa in 1983 broke from that pattern.  Officially, Lisa was an acronym for Local Integrated Software Architecture.  Yet the full story is considerably more colourful.  From Wikipedia:
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“Since Steve Jobs’ first daughter (born in 1978) was named Lisa Jobs, it is normally inferred that the name also had a personal association, and perhaps that the acronym was invented later to fit the name. Andy Hertzfeld states that the acronym was reverse engineered from the name “Lisa” in autumn 1982 by the Apple marketing team, after they had hired a marketing consultancy firm to come up with names to replace “Lisa” and “Macintosh” and then rejected all of the suggestions.  Privately, Hertzfeld and the other software developers used “Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym”, a recursive backronym, while computer industry pundits coined the term “Let’s Invent Some Acronym” to fit the Lisa’s name.”
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It was in 1984, with the release of the Macintosh personal computer, that Apple began to leverage its company name into a naming architecture that ultimately evolved into one that is now embedded in the popular culture and copied by legions of tailcoat-riding brands.  While Apple did not directly perpetuate the apple theme post-Macintosh – say, by calling its subsequent products the Delicious or the Fuji – the Mac, as it came to be known, claimed such an enduring hold on the popular consciousness that it became the jumping-off point for Jobs’ naming strategy upon his return to the company a full 13 years later.
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Jobs was of course forced out of Apple by its board of directors in the year following Mac’s release, finally to return in 1997 and release the radically different-looking iMac – its name extrapolated from Macintosh and prefixed by an i to convey the spirit in which Jobs sought to deeply personalize humanity’s relationship with technology.  Before the iMac, personal computers were yellowish/grey eyesores.  Many still are.  But the iMac – incredibly – came in different colours.  And, in a stroke of naming brilliance that even further differentiated iMac and its parent brand, the colours weren’t called “blue” or “red”, but Blueberry, Strawberry, Tangerine, Grape, and Lime.  Other colours, including Graphite, Ruby, Sage, Snow, Indigo, Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power, were to follow.
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a history of apple brand names - iMac

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While the Mac name lives on in products including the latest-generation iMac, along with the MacMini, MacBook Air and Mac Pro Server, i-prefixed names were to become the most public face of Apple’s go-forward naming strategy.  The first descendant of iMac’s nomenclature was iTunes. Then iPod, iPhone and iPad.  Also iCloud, iLife, iWork and iSight.

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One starts to appreciate, if certainly not condone, why countless brands have copied the i in Apple’s names; Scotiabank’s iTrade is a prominent example.  The power of i as an appeal to consumers’ individuality has even evolved into a cornucopia of names starting with mymyFord and myLincoln just for starters.

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How long will Steve Jobs’ naming legacy last?  Someday soon, Apple will run out  of new ways to use the i prefix – and they will have to start thinking more broadly about Apple-inspired names.  The possibilities remain rich:  the Apple Newton, although a commercial failure, was a step in that naming direction.
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Sometime after the end of new i’s, as-yet unknown products, one by one, will render the i-line so obsolete that a name like iPhone, for example, will no longer be relevant.  It’s hard to imagine the extinction of something as fundamental as an iPhone.  But as Steve Jobs may have seen, it may happen sooner than we think.
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a history of apple brand names

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