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Pondering a name change for OS X

Jason Snell | Aug. 28, 2015
What's in a name? For Apple, maybe something a little different than we're used to.

thinkstockphotos hello my name is

Back in May I made a modest proposal for Apple to change OS X back to Mac OS and abandon the X once and for all. It was a plea, not a prediction–which is a good thing, because it didn’t happen.

Then again, we’ve got another year before iOS 9 and OS X meet like gunfighters crossing paths in an old west town at high, er, ten. It could still happen.

But since I wrote that column, I’ve heard from a lot of people who have coalesced around a different concept for the future of how Apple’s platforms are labeled. And at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, we got a few clues about what Apple might be thinking.

So let’s play the name game!

Apple this, Apple that

The “i” prefix is on the outs at Apple. Back in the late ’90s, after Apple had a hit with the iMac (where the i stood for Internet), every Apple product got an i as a prefix. The success of the iPod and iTunes accelerated the trend, and all of us a sudden there were the iPhone and iPad.

But while Apple considered referring to its new set-top box as iTV, it ended up (perhaps for trademark reasons) calling it Apple TV instead. Naming something Apple [generic noun] has some serious advantages. None of their competitors can usurp the name, because it’s tied in with Apple itself. And of course, the Apple brand is one of the most known and loved brands in the whole world. Why not let some of that affection rub off on any product that you create?

So we have not just Apple TV, but Apple Watch and Apple Music. If the iPhone were invented today, they’d probably call it Apple Phone.

So when I wrote back in May that Apple should embrace the Mac and rename OS X as Mac OS, I heard from a lot of people–including my Upgrade podcast co-host Myke Hurley–that I shouldn’t ignore this bigger trend. That perhaps we were about to see a huge change in which all of Apple’s operating systems–for the iPhone and iPad, the Mac, and even the Apple Watch–would be reduced to a single brand, Apple OS.

Sure, perhaps under the hood these operating systems would remain as they are now, but in terms of branding and promotion they’d all be running Apple OS, in an edition for computers or tablets or phones or watches.

I see what they’re getting at, but it seems too outlandish a scenario for me. The fact is, the Mac is not an iPad, and it’s not going to become one. I don’t think Apple is going to change the name of its operating systems to Apple and a generic noun just as I don’t think Apple’s going to throw away the tremendous brand names that are Mac, iPhone, and iPad just because they don’t conform with the company’s current naming philosophy. It would be stupid to rebrand the iPhone as the Apple Phone. Why mess with success?


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