Why Apple might kill the “i” forever


Double down indeed. Not one glimpse of the Apple Watch was leaked to the press or even Chinese manufacturers ahead of this week. No one got the name of Apple Pay right. And who could have predicted the Digital Crown as the UI input for smartwatches? Say what you will about the new products, but Steve's secrecy machine is on point like never before.
Has Apple made the right choice to ditch the i-naming scheme for new products? The man who named the iMac thinks so. (Photo: Business Insider)

From books to phones, Apple’s named everything with the same “i” moniker since 1998. With the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, however, it looks like that convention is set to change. 

Cult of Mac reached out to Ken Segall — the former Apple employee who started the tradition with the original iMac — for his surprising reaction to Apple ditching his naming convention for new product categories.

“There has long been debate inside Apple about the i,” Segall says. “To some, its time had passed years ago — but given the strength of that branding element, it was tough to walk away from.”

As Segall explains, when he first came up with the name iMac the i stood for “Internet,” although it could also mean “imagination,” “individual,” “inspire” and “instruct.” Until he was talked out of it, Steve Jobs had planned to call the iMac the MacMan.

The i was always slightly problematic for Apple, however, since other companies were using it. An Israeli company called InfoGear copyrighted the name iPhone in 1996, more than a decade before Apple debuted its handset. InfoGear was later acquired by Cisco which threatened litigation when Apple announced its iPhone. (The case was settled out of court.)

With the i brand having had its time in the sun, Segall says that he sees the value in Apple using its own name (one of the world’s most valuable brands) to sell products going forward.

“It does make sense that Apple would want to shift to something that can’t be hijacked, and actually pays off the master brand more directly,” he says. “The use of the logo in the name [Apple Watch] is pretty cool.”

With regards to whether he ever got credit for the i-naming after the iMac, Segall notes that, “It is what it is, really. My contribution was the first i-word, which we did believe had value as a foundation for future naming. We quickly applied the i to iBook, iMovie, iPhoto, etc.”

“To be honest, none of us — including Steve Jobs — were thinking ahead to a time when Apple would get into the consumer electronics biz.  It all happened in a very organic way, one step at a time. Nobody gets any kind of ‘credit’ for such things — nor should they — but the history is there if anyone ever cares to look.”

  • Suni

    I thought the “i” was just a stand alone product identifier. Like the iMac, iPhone, iPad. I looked at the apple watch as a accessory for the iPhone and that was why it wasn’t called iWatch.

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      It was because of the internet as that’s what was the big buzz word, so Apple capitalized on sticking the “i” in front of everything. I kind of agree that it’s time to move away from it and use the word Apple and then describe what the product is. I’m fine with it being called the Apple Watch instead of the Apple iWatch. It’s better than “gear”. I think Samsung is out of their mind calling a watch product “gear”. That’s a horrible name as it doesn’t really describe what the product is. Calling it an Apple Watch is pretty straightforward.

  • Aldebaran

    Did the author conveniently forget Apple TV? That came out in January 2007, right?

    • Luke Dormehl

      Good catch. I didn’t forget about it, but I think that was a case of Apple’s hand being forced somewhat. Certainly here in the UK one of our five main channels (the second biggest after the BBC) is called ITV. I think Apple was saving itself a few headaches.

      • I was thinking about this yesterday. There was no way they could have ever called the Apple TV ‘iTV’ so no doubt that was the genesis of this new brand approach. Although I’d agree, the i has had it’s day, especially as the original iPod has now been retired.

      • Luke Dormehl

        Part of it is Tim Cook putting his stamp on Apple, too. Steve Jobs changed the naming convention when he came back to Apple in 2007. It only makes sense that Cook would also want to do the same thing. And of course the Apple brand means a whole lot more than it did in 1998, when the iMac was launched.

      • Mal Joe

        Steve Jobs made his return to Apple much sooner than 2007.

      • Luke Dormehl

        Sorry. That’s what comes from too long days. I meant 1997, of course. :)

      • Mal Joe

        No harm, no foul. :-)

      • lucascott

        And what stopped them from using iBook and iBook Pro.

    • San Diego Dave

      Not only was iTV already taken by the UK channel, but apparently Steve Jobs jokingly said on stage that he might he keep calling it “iTV” by mistake, which suggests that iTV was the original name.

  • Kenton

    MacMan? Good thing he got talked out of that one.

    I could be writing this on comment on a Retina MacManBook Pro otherwise. Just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Yeah, MacMan would have been a disaster. Maybe Steve was dropping acid at the time.

      • deepkid

        don’t you remember tho? so many of us HATED MacBook, when it replaced PowerBook. But it slides right off the tongue now. :)

    • Blair

      hehe or Macpad (Sounds dirty)

  • I can agree with the article but i think Jobs would n’t like at all…
    Just to remind you the story for the first visual os dropdown menus with apples that jobs rejected…
    And the whole problem with product (RED) about the “( )”
    The Apple is the Company’s logo and you dont have to stick this everywhere…
    Under or after something… It was Job’s Holly Grail…

  • Jay

    I think they should. And they should drop the “Mac” too. It would be much cleaner if everything was preceded by 

     Phone
     Pad
     Watch
     TV
     Pro
     Book
     Mini

    Plus their software would be consistant if they dropped the i. They’re already doing it with “Photos”.

    • It is nice and clean, but what about the iMac though? That would simply become the ‘Mac’. I think they will keep that and for the MacBook too. ‘Apple Book’ doesn’t sound right. Unlike the i, ‘Mac’ is part of the original Apple DNA.

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      I think that iPad is better than just Pad. iPhone is better than Phone, MacBook is better than just plain book, I think keeping Mac as part of the naming convention for laptops/desktops should be left alone. I don’t know why they call the 5.5 version the iPhone Plus, I would have preferred the iPhone Pro.

      • deepkid

        Maybe it isn’t called Pro because has another, unmentioned device in mind? Also there’s Apple in front of those devices you named. It’d Apple Pad instead of just Pad, etc.

      • deepkid

        Maybe it isn’t called Pro because perhaps Apple has another…

      • xared

        Because it isnt really ‘Pro’ compared to iPhone 6. Mac Pro is really a Pro version to the iMac. Meant for professionals, with beefier hardware.

      • Anthony

        For certain devices, the “i” branding makes sense, and will probably stick. However, for stuff like the MacBook Pro, the “iBook” naming seemed a bit limited. I see the “i” branding sticking around as their “mobile centric” naming convention – IE iPhone, iPad, iPod. Any accessory-type items could stick with the “Apple” branding – Apple TV, Apple Watch. Desktop and mobile computing solutions could retain the “Mac” branding and eventually drop the “i” branding – Apple Mac, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro. I’d actually love to see the full “Macintosh” branding for the desktop line make a return, but I doubt that’s in the cards.

    • San Diego Dave

      “Apple Book”, “Apple Pad” and “Apple Pro” don’t sound good. I’m sure we’d get used to it eventually, but there’s too many similar consonant sounds bunched together, it sounds like some awkward alliterative verse.

    • Blair

       Tunes lol

    • xared

      Wow. Do you think typing the above is easier? Quicker to speak? (Ap-ple has 2 syllables, i is 1), or even look better?

      That many apple symbols look bad already. With some more:

       Photo
       Movie
       Book Air
       Pod Touch

      This comes closer to the shit scheme of Samsung.
      Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 Neo, anyone?

  • LaChaineDePeio

    I think it’s a mistake and Jobs would not agree with what’s going on with the new Apple Watch product name. Because what makes it great with the “i”Devices is that the brand was so powerful that they became generic words, like the iPod instead of a mp3 player etc. We can’t do this with the Apple Watch or any new products they will introduce in the future. In long term projects it’s a terrible idea.

    • Maybe so, but…

      “Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right,’” ~ Tim Cook

      Times change. I think they should move forward.

    • Magic_Al

      What else can they do? The Macintosh name was originally picked because it’s (an alternately spelled) variety of Apple, theme naming not unlike what Apple has done with OS X. They also have history using creatively paired words like ImageWriter (which led to LaserWriter and StyleWriter) and also original but confusing names like Centris, Quadra and Performa (brands that suffered from being paired with an alphabet soup of letters and numbers to identify each model in a line).

  • Riduan

    I think there is also another reason for changing naming convention which is duplication of Apple Products.’I’ has many meaning.But Apple Watch clearly justify the product is by Apple.

    • Luke Dormehl

      100 percent this. There are so many examples of people using the “i” prefix to vaguely suggest coolness and sophistication. Apple can’t legally police all of those, but they’re in a much better position to defend if I want to come up with, say, an Apple Shoe or an Apple Speaker.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    Maybe they should call iMovie, Final Cut and then the pro version is called Final Cut Pro to add the distinction between the two.

    • deepkid

      Apple Cut. Apple Cut Pro. ;-)

  • Blair

    but if they started doing this; they would have to start all over again with the phones, ipods and ipads. They couldnt just jump to the  Phone 7

  • The MacMan? Good Grief.

    • Anthony

      I doubt he was actually serious. MacMan was a running joke with the development team.

  • CuJo YYC


  • swisslu

    Really important for the success of Apple Pay is confidience. With the apple logo, they now have a quality-brand which everyone knows. If there would stay iPay, people may ont be shure is this really a Apple Service. Maybe this is the reasen… Because for me, the i is still cooler than the Apple logo

  • Nick Dastoor

    “From books to phones, Apple’s named everything with the same “i” moniker since 1998.”

    This first sentence is manifestly untrue, Luke. Apple launched the MacBook brand in 2006, dropping the “iBook” name.

  • lucascott

    Macbook, Macbook Pro, Apple TV. All products since 1998 with no i

  • Todd Douthit

    nobody would sign on for something called iPay.

  • Nick_Germ

    My theory is the watch is not going to be updated every year. Just like the apple tv. iPhone iPad, all will have yearly cycles and the watch and tv will be longer.
    I was thinking why does the watch need to be updated every year?
    it is almost a second screen for your phone