Photo: Associated Press
Ever since Tim Cook has taken over as Apple CEO, people have been wondering whether he has that intangible “vision thing” that can make him an equally successful CEO as Steve Jobs.The answer: no one knows, including Tim Cook itself. Only the future will tell.
But the good news is, Steve Jobs, for all his talent, is not a perfect man, and there are some things about Apple he just did wrong and that Tim Cook can fix.
One of those things, which has been driving us crazy, is Apple’s naming.
Steve Jobs, and by extension Apple, seems to have a love-hate relationship with the English language. He’s obviously an excellent writer. At the same time, wonky grammar and syntax pops up around Jobs and Apple. “Think Different” is, after all, a nonsensical phrase. And it’s baffling that, by default, Apple devices will add “Sent from my iPhone” without a period at the end of that sentence to emails.
More generally, while Apple’s products are often best of breed, the names of these products are often terrible. The i-something prefix, inaugurated with the iMac is a holdover from the 1990s internet boom when everything was i-something or e-something and it was already silly then. Today it’s downright ridiculous. “iPod” is a pretty bad name, but “iPad” may be the most hilariously awful product name anyone has ever come up with, and it’s a testament to the greatness of the product that the mocking subsided so quickly. The iPad, being a new category of product, would have been a great opportunity to just phase out the i prefix and call it something completely different. (Besides describing a sanitary product, “pad” is probably the least impressive word one could use to describe something one holds in one’s hand that contains information.)
It seems that whenever Apple names something, it grabs a thesaurus and tries to look for a fancy word that describes the thing the product is doing. It plays music? Let’s call it iTunes! Or sometimes it chooses a word that doesn’t describe anything. Like “Exposé”. Or “Mission Control” (“Mission Control”? Why not “Apollo 9”?). Microsoft’s naming conventions are hit-and-miss, but at least “task bar” and “start button” are neat and describe things and make sense. Oh, and “Ping”? “Ping”, seriously? Was “Kapow” taken?
And of course whenever Apple comes up with a name for something it never has the trademark or the domain name and it has to buy and/or sue for it.
Apple does get some things right. The convention of naming versions of Mac OS X after big cats is pretty nice. (Although everyone says “Mac OS Eks” even though you’re “supposed” to say “Mac OS 10”.) MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are fine names. So is Time Capsule. “Magic Mouse” is a really good name: alliterative, evocative and yet descriptive.
Now, naming things well is very hard, as anyone who has looked for a band name knows. The vast majority of product names out there are ridiculous. But Apple holds itself to a high standard. By Apple’s reckoning, the vast majority of laptops out there are “junk”, too, and it still makes great laptops.
In any case, it’s utterly incomprehensible why Apple, a company renowned precisely for its attention to detail and marketing prowess, has such a haphazard and lousy relationship to naming products, and really English grammar. This is something Tim Cook can fix effortlessly and will be great to Apple and its customers who pay attention to detail.