Apple Watch or iWatch: the one letter that shows Apple hasn't quite convinced everyone

What's in a name? Everything, if you're Apple and you've announced your risky new product

A solution in search of a problem: shoppers queue in Hong Kong to test the Apple Watch, which does little that isn’t already available
A solution in search of a problem: shoppers queue in Hong Kong to test the Apple Watch, which does little that isn’t already available

Apple might have introduced amazing new technologies and design when it unveiled the Apple Watch in September. But it made another astounding announcement, too: its name.

In the run up to the event, social media had been abuzz about the iWatch, with little question about what exactly it would be called. About halfway through the event, it became clear that Apple was referring to it as a watch, with the small half-eaten Apple symbol just in front of the word. Then, when those on stage started calling it an Apple Watch, the name caught on.

Except it didn’t entirely. The watch continues to be referred to as iWatch, even months after it was unveiled and after yesterday's launch. People are still searching on Google for the iWatch, despite Apple never announcing such a product.

Interest over time in Apple Watch (blue) and iWatch (red) on Google

It is still getting more than 10,000 searches, according to Google, even after Apple has run two events where it kept saying the phrase "Apple Watch" and after months of ads.

It's better on Twitter: tweets about the Apple Watch vastly outnumber those about the iWatch. But there's still a stubborn group tweeting about the iWatch — hundreds per hour.

Even Tim Cook wasn’t entirely used to the name at launch, being caught on camera referring to the iWatch just ahead of the event in September.

The name everyone expected was iWatch. While it’s unclear why exactly Apple dropped the i prefix, there are plenty of good reasons for them to do so.

i isn’t cool any more

The iMac was the first big i product, and when it was announced the letter seemed to stand for everything that was exciting about computing. The consultant who came up with the name says that the letter stood for internet mostly, but also “individuality” and “innovation”. It was a slightly strange but ultimately cool name — and Apple borrowed that cachet when it attached the letter to the iPod, iPhone and iPad as well as lesser known products like the iBook and iLife.

But by the time the Apple Watch arrived, 16 years after the iMac was first announced, the name seemed tired. Everyone had used it — from BBC’s iPlayer to Nickelodeon’s sitcom iCarly. It had gone from being the future to the slightly worn out past, and it helped it avoid picking up any of that.

The rest of the products announced since Tim Cook took the reigns avoid the i prefix too, such as Apple Pay. Though plenty of media reports referred to the iCar, if it ever arrives it probably won’t be called anything like that.

It doesn’t want to seem like a computer

Apple has been heavily targeting fashion, not tech, people in all of its marketing. The first major advertising campaign was in the pages of Vogue, and it has made sure that the watch has been spotted on the wrists of fashion journalists and designers.

Vogue China November 2014 issue featuring model Liu Wen wearing the Apple Watch

i products sound like tech products. Apple products have much of the trappings of fashion. So Apple might have dropped the name to mark its move towards a fashion audience.

And dropping the i also allows the “watch” part of the name to come more to the fore. If people are really going to engage with the Apple Watch, it’s likely that they’ll have to come to think of it as part of them – a new kind of watch, not a new kind of computer.

It doesn’t connect to the internet

The i might have meant many things, but it’s main purpose was the internet. Every time Apple brought out a new i device, the internet added excitement — the iMac was one of the first personal computers built for the internet age, and the iPhone was the first mobile to have internet built in across all of its features.

The Apple Watch can’t connect to the internet. Instead, it connects to the iPhone, borrowing its connection to serve up its notifications and information.

Trademarks

The Apple Watch isn’t the first big new product to drop the i. That came with the Apple TV, which was released in 2007.

But it didn’t always have that name — when the little set-top box was unveiled as a work-in-progress in late 2006, Apple referred to it as the iTV. But when it went on sale shortly after, it was known by its current name.

There was already an ITV — the British broadcaster — and while that might not have been well known to the US-based Apple it was enough to warn them off the name.

The same might easily have happened to those in possession of names like iWatch.

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