What's in a name? We were having a discussion in the office the other day, as you do, on what our names would be if we were to switch gender. That is to say, if you were of the opposite gender, what name would you choose for yourself. Personally I chose Marsha, not after the landlady in Spaced, but the somewhat more attractive Brady Bunch kid. My wife Heidi went with the rather boring John, though I have to agree with her when she claims it suits her. But it got me thinking, would we think about Apple the same way if it was called something else? I'm sure you would think of me in a different way if I really was called Marsha, would you think of your Mac differently if it was called a Gateway.
What if Jobs and Wozniak had come up with another name for their company? Could we pledge allegiance to a computer named after Steve Jobs, like Michael Dell. We could be using a Jobs mini, or perhaps a quad-core Big Jobs. Apple has showed remarkably little ingenuity in it's naming conventions. Once they settled on Apple, which in itself has cost the company dear due to the Beatles record label of the same name, they have managed few successes with names.
The Macintosh is a kind of Apple, so that was pretty good, but 22 years later the Mac name is still being used. The only other apple pun the company went with was the Newton – its ill-fated handheld computer. We waited with great anticipation to use the headline “Apple drops Newton”. But the name did little else to amuse.
After the original Macintosh, Apple chose to go with more arcane names, such as IIcx, IIfx and SE30. They offered few clues to what the machines contained or what they were capable of. If the letters were of any relevance it was only hinted at. The LC was supposedly the low-cost model, the SE was perhaps the special edition. But the real creativity was always in the code names.
Macintosh started out as a codename, and that stuck. But the other models all had codenames. They had exciting names such as terminator, Chinook, Primus and Mr T, though some were less thrilling, like Carl Sagan. The Carl Sagan codename turned out to be something of a problem. The real Carl Sagan got wind of it – presumably it was called that in homage to the television astronomer – and wasn't as flattered as you might expect. Mr Sagan didn't like them using his name (which at the time was well known) and actually sued Apple. Apple backed off and re-codenamed that model the PowerMac 7100 BHA. BHA stood for butthead astronomer.
The Mac name has withstood years of use, but it wasn't until Steve Jobs returned to the company that it would become even more widely known. Steve simply added a small i to the beginning of it and the iMac was born. Now try to imagine a world without products starting with a small i. Steve seems to have some kind of aversion to upper case letters – all the iPod models, the shuffle, nano and mini, all did without upper case letters in their names.
The internet Mac has spawned so many offshoots, both from Apple and other companies, that its influence can be seen globally. The iPod, iMovie, iPhoto and so on are the Apple products, but to Steve's dismay he doesn't own the rights to the letter i. So we also have the i-Deck, the iPhone, any number of iPod add-ons and of course the iBrator.
Little i or not, the Mac name has proven resilient, but I'm inclined to think that it's wearing a little thin now. It was rejigged when the Power Mac range came out, but of course the PowerPC processor is now on the way out. The PowerBook is now the MacBook without the PowerPC processor. While I love the product, the MacBook name is awful. Even the Apple representative that showed me the MacBook Pro had a hard time getting his tongue around it. It just makes me think it's time to lose the Mac.
There are other types of Apple, but Golden Delicious or Granny Smith don't really fit the bill. While I'm fond of a Pink Lady, or a Cox's Orange Pippin, I don't think it would be great for sales of computers. Apple did make a Pippin, it was a sort of games console, but it never even got close to catching on.
So while having a lower case letter at the start of the name has been popular, naming a computer after a type of apple is getting a bit old. Naming operating systems after big cats seems to have worked well. That's another example of codenames making it off the blackboard into the wild. But most big cat names have been used and they are running out now. After Leopard is released, Apple will be reduced to things like Ocelot or Civet.
Perhaps we should look to another type of animal, like a dog, or a bat or something. Of course, dog names are bound to have bad connotations, and I'm not sure there are enough commonly known bat names to go around. Whales might work, though the Orca laptop sounds a bit bulky, and the iSperm wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) suit a home computer. Perhaps birds of prey would be better. The Eagle laptop, the Osprey consumer machine and the Albatross server would be good. Apple is going to have to come up with something to call the new pro machines, and while I like the idea of a Falcon tower, it is pretty unlikely. But please Apple, come up with something more inspiring than a MacTower Pro, or an xMac server.
Whatever the designers, branding consultants and focus groups do come up with for the new Intel-powered range, it is sure to be influential. So should you find yourself included on that decision-making process, bear in mind the power you wield. The name you choose will have copycats, spin offs and parodies for years to come. The name chosen may be on the first Apple machine for a legion of switchers. So history is in the making, just don't go down the MacBook Pro route.