The subtle brilliance of Apple’s product names

“While recently browsing through some Sony camcorders on Amazon, I was struck by how nonsensical and downright confusing tech companies can be when naming their products,” Yoni Heisler writes for TUAW.

“How can the average consumer, without engaging in an extensive amount of online research, really differentiate a Sony HDR-CX430V camcorder from a Sony HDR-PJ380/B camcorder?” Heisler writes. “Both are mid-level Sony camcorder models released in 2013, but if you want to find out how they differ, you better start scouring the web for reviews or reading the fine print on Amazon product pages. Of course, you could try and wade through Sony’s own website, but it’s a jumbled mess not intended for the faint of heart.”

“While Sony has a notorious reputation for product names that would fit more aptly on a line of industrial robots, it’s not the only offender. Let’s say I’m looking for a new laptop. Should I go with an HP 2000-2b19wm notebook or maybe an Acer C710-2834?” Heisler writes. “Apple, of course, does things much differently.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, obfuscate.

27 Comments

  1. I love the way Apple names their products. The one product I wasn’t really comfy with was “iTools” I think I spelled it right. It’s like saying ” I”m a TOOL”.. lol

    1. At least it remained the “Zune” until it dies. Given that Microsoft routinely re-brands it’s failures, I’m surprised the Zune didn’t go thru 3 name changes like almost all their products. The fact that the Xbox has a clearly defined lineage that easily separates it’s generations (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One) is the clearest indication that something different was going on in that division.

        1. Pretty clear Mavericks comes after Mountain Lion too. Truth is, they’re both variations on the same concept. 360/circle, full scope. One/All/Complete.

          The idea is that the XBox is the one all-encompassing console that does everything.

          Microsoft may not do everything right, but they were and are spot on with their XBox marketing. It would’ve been amateurish to go the easy route and say: XBox 720.

          And look at Nintendo, also known for good naming.

          NES (Nintendo Entertainment System)
          SNES (usually called Super Nintendo)
          N64 (64-bit)
          GameCube
          Wii
          Wii U

          What about the iPhone:

          iPhone
          iPhone 3G
          iPhone 3GS
          iPhone 4
          iPHone 4S
          iPHone 5
          iPHone 5s / 5c

          iPad
          iPad 2
          iPad with Retina
          iPad Air

          Marketing isn’t a game of sequential numbers.

          1. iPad
            iPad 2
            iPad with Retina
            iPad Air

            Actually you skipped one, and the official names were:
            1) iPad
            2) iPad 2
            3) iPad
            4) iPad
            5) iPad Air

            For 3 & 4, they referred to them as “The New iPad” in advertising.

            The iPhone numbering, with the exception of the bump to 3G works out to new number = new body and S = second edition.

    1. Yeah, I agree with that one. It seems like an attempt to name them like MacBook Pros. Like when they introduce a new MacBook, you go to the site and see “The All New MacBook Pro”. It’s just a different animal.

    1. BMW model numbers usually mean something. The first digit identifies the product line, the next two the engine, and the trailing letters the variation within the model.

      1. … but they still sound boring. Silicon chips have part numbers that can be decoded and mean something, but they’re boring too.

        Good names take a lot more effort to dream up, but are much easier to relate to.

      2. Sony model numbers decode into something meaningful too; series, high or low end, etc. That doesn’t make them any less confusing to the general public, since they don’t actually explain this anywhere.

        Here’s an example of a breakdown of a Sony laptop model from a few years back:

        Model:
        VPC-F13M1E/H

        Letter Meaning:
        VPC = VAIO Personal Computer

        F Series

        1 Chassis

        3 Generation per quarter of a year

        M Shows the grade of the model, in this case Middle

        1 Means Original retail. This means this laptop has been bought withknown specifications.

        E Europe

        /H The color of the VAIO

  2. Keep in mind that the TUAW website is focusing on new products only. If you are considering purchasing a used or refurbished product from Apple, then *some* research is necessary to distinguish between the various models out there. But then again, because Apple has kept its product line-ups simple, it won’t take long to find out the information you want and make a decision. Another fine insight from the late, great, Steve Jobs, who always put the customer first and imagined what it would be like to step into their shows.

  3. Product names have as much to do with how they can be trademarked as they are classified or identified. A good product name can inspire consumers to take a more active interest in it. While it is easy to give a product name a lifeless classification, such as the aformentioned Sony HDR-CX430V, with some effort, Apple comes up with a name that is a good play on words, such as Airport.

    In the case of Sony, the company produces myriad versions of its products for different worldwide markets, and the gobbledygookish name such as Sony HDR-CX430V may suit the company, but hardly inspires the consumer. Apple is more focused on making product names that are visually tangible and inspiring, such as the example of the Airport.

    Where life gets more complex is when it comes to filing a trademark for a product name. Having been involved with trademarks and product names professionally, it’s a challenge. First, many names that you can think of were trademarked long ago. There are many different classes of trademarks, so that “Airport” can be used by Apple for one class (electronics), while a restaurant could use the trademark for another application (The Airport Cafe) without infringing on Apple’s trademark, as it is applied to another trademark class.

    Where things get interesting is when a company files for trademark approval. The US Patent and Trademark Office won’t accept trademarks that are deemed as “merely descriptive” that is, if Apple had tried to trademark “Apple WiFi station” instead of “Airport.” What Apple has done brilliantly is to use an “ambiguous” trademark to name its WiFi base station (Airport). It employs a novel use of a common word (Airport) in a new context. That passes the USPTO smell test. At the same time, it exhibits the creative flair that we have come to expect from Apple.

    This might sound arcane, but when you are a Phil Schiller and his team, you work closely with the company’s trademark attorneys to research trademarks and come up with naming ideas that are simple, easy to remember, distill a product that could be abstract and impossibly techy, and turn it into a product name that ordinary consumers can both understand and want to buy. Contrast that with competing WiFi devices on sale, and you will understand why Apple succeeds as it does.

    Product names might be low on your list of things that fascinate you, but the reason you’re on this site is because everything Apple does simplifies computing as we know it. Compare that to the unnecessary complexity that is the Windows world. On second thought, don’t bother. You already understand.

    So yes, product names matter. And nobody does it better than Apple. That’s thinking different.

  4. It is worse then what the writer said, and way more trouble for manufacturers. A poorly named product can destroy years of goodwill. Here is my story:
    I had a really good Acer laptop plus 3 nice Acer monitors. So in January 2013 when it can time to replace the laptop for work, I bought another Acer laptop. I thought I was checking all the specs: I got a nice i7 processor, good screen, enough memory, good graphics, and all the ports I needed. Or so I thought. The new laptop only supports SD cards not SDHC or SDXC. What? In 2013? Come on. Next thing, when you put the computer to sleep, the HDMI connected Monitor doesn’t automatically turn off. And I checked every spec. The laptop does preform well, but those two small problems tell me that Acer no longer pays attention to detail. How much could that SDXC chip cost on a $1000 laptop? $2? Seven years of real good personal experience with Acer out the window. Next laptop I buy: every manufacturer will get a look. (Probably buy a Apple laptop and run parallels).

    Now Apple has made a similar mistake: the “refreshed” 2013 iMac does NOT support Thunderbolt 2. This means that 4k video monitors are STILL limited to 30hz. Good enough to watch 4k videos, but marginal for using a 4k monitor for computer work.

    1. I forgot to say that when I talked to Acer about this they said the “Travelmate” with a different series supports SDHC and SDXC, hence the mistake I made with the naming of the laptop. That was the point of the above comment.

  5. My favourite name for an Apple product has always been “Rosetta”. Named after the Rosetta stone, the software translated PPC code to X86, making the transition to Intel seem less.

  6. maybe the worst brand naming contrast is car manufacturers:

    contrast:
    German efficiency even in naming, vs American complexity:

    AUDI:
    A1 / A2 / A3…

    US:
    Chevrolet Camaro 1LS Coupe (4 names in 1?!)
    Chevrolet Cruze 2LT Auto Sedan (5 in 1)
    GM Buick Enclave Leather SUV (5 in 1)
    GM Buick LaCrosse Base Sedan (5 in 1)

    it’s no wonder Apple not only mimics German Industrial Design (pre-Jony: Hartmut Esslinger & Ive Dieter Rams), but naming as well [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartmut_Esslinger] [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieter_Rams]

  7. another brilliantly ugly nonsensical branding co. is Microsoft!

    Windows OS brand naming chaos:
    not only silly names simultaneously varied superimposed systems:
    1995 Windows 3.11
    1995 Windows 95
    1995 Windows NT 3.1 + 3.51
    1996 Windows 95
    1996 Windows NT 3.51 + 4
    1996 Windows CE 1
    1997 Windows CE 2
    1997 Windows NT 4
    1998 Windows 98
    1999 Windows 98SE
    2000 Windows 2000 (NT5)
    2000 Windows Me
    2000 Windows CE3
    2000 Pocket PC 2000
    2001 Windows XP (NT 5.1)
    2002 Windows CE4
    2002 Pocket PC 2002
    2003 Pocket PC 2003
    2003 Windows Server 2003 (NT 5.2)
    2004 Windows CE5
    2004 Mobile 2003 SE
    2005 Mobile 5
    2006 CE6
    2006 Windows Longhorn
    2006 Windows Vista (NT6)
    2007 Mobile 6
    2007 Home Server (NT6)
    2008 Windows Server 2008 (NT6 + R2)
    2009 Windows 7 (NT 6.1)
    2011 Windows CE7
    2011 Windows Phone 7
    2011 Home Server 2011 (NT 6.1)
    2012 Windows 8 (NT 6.2)
    2012 Windows RT (NT 6.2)
    2012 Windows Server 2012 (NT 6.2)
    2012 Phone 8

    3 NT versions in 2012?!
    i’m not even mentioning the stupid interim versions!
    i.e.
    01 Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 $129
    02 Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 32bit $129
    03 Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade $210
    04 Windows 7 Pro SP1 32bit $180
    05 Windows 7 Pro SP1 64bit $180
    06 Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64bit $230
    07 Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade $32
    you f’g figure out which ultimate/normal/ 1 1/16th normal version you want and at any of 5-10 prices! WTF?!

    Microsoftian-like branding firms give you:
    1. headache
    2. brain damage
    3. convulsions
    4. hence the reason for “windows” – it all drives you so mad, you got to jump out the window! (yes, commit S!)

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