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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.

The lowercase prophecy

Now let’s get into Apple Kremlinology a little bit. At WWDC, Apple announced that this fall there would be a software update to the Apple Watch, and dubbed it watchOS 2. This was the first time we’d seen that brand name–and it provides us a view into Apple’s thinking about operating-system branding. watchOS seemingly apes the style of iOS, with a lowercase phrase (i presumably represents iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) followed by the all-caps OS.

Now, the lower/upper styling of watchOS made a bunch of people wince. I don’t hate it, but it does feel a little gimmicky, a styling that will seem dated a few years from now. John Gruber of Daring Fireball went out of his way to mention this to Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller on stage during an interview in San Francisco in June.

Schiller’s response to Gruber was interesting: “I think you’ll see–give us time.”

We’re through the looking glass here, people, deep into speculation mode. (But you’re 700 words into a column about how Apple names its products, so are you surprised.) But what if Schiller’s “give us time” is referring to 2016, when an iOS 10 would presumably conflict with OS X?

appletv firstgen
The Apple TV's OS never had much of a distinct name, but if developers are going to get access to it soon, Apple should probably call it something. Maybe tvOS.

OS X doesn’t fit with Apple’s new OS branding scheme. What if, next year, Apple steers away from the confusion of the tens by aligning OS X with its other operating systems–and calling it macOS 11? Yeah, the styling makes me wince, but it does get rid of the “X” branding, increment Mac OS to version 11, and match it up with Apple’s other product line.

One test of this theory might come as early as next month, when Apple’s rumored to be releasing a new version of Apple TV with a revamped interface and possibly an app store. If the Apple Watch gets its own operating-system name with watchOS, what’s stopping the new Apple TV from shipping with tvOS?

By any other name

What’s in a name? In one way, not much–if you rename an app, doesn’t the code remains the same? But names have value. They’re handles we use to get a better grip on what something represents. For the products we spend years of our lives with–and I’ve spent something like 25 years with a product called “Mac”–they provide meaning, continuity, even a sense of community.

So in the end, you can argue that what Apple calls its operating systems or even its hardware products doesn’t really matter–it’s the product itself that counts. In a way, that’s true, but I’ll point out that the combination of a great product and a great name can be pure magic. Would BarneyScan have ever become a verb the way Photoshop has? Would the Mac have resonated as Bicycle or Allegro? Would the original iMac’s Bondi Blue exterior have soared quite so high if it had been called the Performa 2000?

Names matter. So here’s hoping–assuming we’re not stuck with that big capital X forever–that the next one’s a good one.


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