iMac’s terrible code name was an in-joke between Jobs and Schiller

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iMac
The iMac G3 could have had a very different name.
Photo: Apple

The first iMac’s frightful code name was an in-joke that reflected Steve Jobs’ respect for Sony.

The working name — “MacMan” — was so horrible it would “curdle your blood,” according to Ken Segall, the Apple exec who eventually came up with the name “iMac.” Nearly 20 years after Apple shipped the iMac G3, we now have an explanation for the craptacular internal name — courtesy of Phil Schiller, the guy who came up with it.

Given Jobs’ marketing genius, the MacMan name always struck me as odd. I knew Schiller, now Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, came up with “MacMan” in the late ’90s, but never knew what it meant. Now we know.

“Actually it was a joke between Steve and I,” Schiller tweeted over the weekend. “It started after he said he wanted a name as great as Walkman.”

Ironically, Sony’s Walkman, a portable audio player line that ruled the electronics world at the time, would soon fall victim to Apple’s iPod.

The MacMan mystery: Solved!

Schiller
The MacMan name was an in-joke at Apple.
Photo: Phil Schiller/Twitter

Schiller’s explanation came in response to a tweet about my book, The Apple Revolution, in which I relate the story of the MacMan’s name.

“We already have a name we like a lot,” Jobs told the team of creatives working on the original iMac, “but I want you guys to see if you can beat it.”

He then dropped “MacMan” on the group — and they immediately raced off to come up with a better alternative.

The one thing I’d still love to know is whether Jobs actually liked the code name. Maybe he realized of how terrible it was, and simply MacMan it to motivate Segall and his colleagues to come up with something better.

I suspect the latter — especially since Jobs’ instructions for coming up with a commercial name for the iMac G3 included “don’t make it sound like a toy, and don’t make it sound portable.”

Still, given that the iMac G3 was the computer that signaled Apple’s turnaround as a company, it’s fascinating to contemplate what (if any) difference it would have made had it launched as the MacMan G3 instead of the iMac.

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