What's in a Name?: That Which We Call an iPhone by Any Other Name

What's in a Name?: That which we call an iPhone by any other name would sound as sweet.

by Robert X. Cringely

There are a couple glaring mysteries surrounding Apple's new iPhone, announced this week at Macworld -- the name and the Internet connection speed. I'll get to Google in a moment, but first I'd like to cover these two points about the iPhone.

If you've been in a coma the last several days, you may not have heard about Apple's iPhone, which is a combination mobile phone, iPod, and Internet access device. It isn't in the strictest sense a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA, both because its Internet-orientation and whole Web 2.0-iness makes being a PDA passe, and because John Sculley invented that term. Steve Jobs, since he detests anything related to Sculley, who cast Jobs out of Apple back in 1985, will never make a PDA.

The iPhone is cool; the iPhone is neat; the iPhone is weird in a couple of ways. You know it isn't even close to being the most expensive mobile phone on the market, for all the grousing I've read about the price. My Nokia N.93, which was technically not available yet in the U.S. until recently, but could be freely found in the United States of eBay, costs substantially more at around $800.

What's weird about the iPhone is, first, its name, since iPhone is a registered trademark of Cisco Systems, which sells a variety of products under that brand. Apple has been negotiating with Cisco about licensing the iPhone name, so they can hardly claim ignorance of the trademark, yet this week they announced the product without such a license and of course Cisco filed a lawsuit in response. As the trademark holder, Cisco had no choice, because to not file suit would have been to not defend the trademark, perhaps making it more vulnerable to poaching by Apple.

What makes these trademark shenanigans all the more peculiar is that at the same MacWorld show this week Apple introduced another product called Apple TV, which it first demonstrated last year under the name iTV. (Just as an aside, one reader pointed out, "Look at the Mac Mini, the Apple TV, and the new AirPort extreme, all the same size and Bob's version of Apple's multimedia PC is stacking up, for less than $1,000.") Well, it turned out that Elgato Systems makes a product called EyeTV (pronounced "iTV" obviously), which is a line of Macintosh video capture devices -- some with tuners -- so Apple backed off and changed the product name to Apple TV.

So Apple changed its marketing, diluting its whole "iThis" and "iThat" naming strategy in deference to Elgato, a company they could buy with a weekend's earnings from the iTunes Store, but chose to go toe-to-toe with Cisco, a company that's bigger, richer, and just as mean as Apple any day. If an iTV can become an Apple TV, why can't an iPhone become an Apple Phone?

I think it will.

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