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The Death of Apple, Inc's "i" Branding

By Evan Niu, CFA - Oct 1, 2014 at 5:47PM

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Apple's iconic "i" has endured nearly two decades of branding, but its days may be iNumbered.

Apple's (AAPL 1.30%) "i" branding sure has had a good run. The naming convention started in 1997 with the original iMac, one of the key products that built the foundation to Apple's turnaround. Almost two decades later, the "i" has been one of the most enduring product branding strategies, but it seems as if Apple's "i" may be on its way out.

Ken Segall is the man who came up with the original iMac name, so he should know. In a recent blog post, he notes that neither of the two new products Apple unveiled earlier this month carried the iBranding, with the company instead opting for "Apple Pay "and "Apple Watch." Segall believes that the only explanation for this is that Apple is preparing to shift its branding strategy away from its iconic "i."

An Apple product by any other name would sell just as well
Over the years, many companies have piggybacked on Apple's iBranding, such as iHome, among many others. At times, that's presented some interesting obstacles for Apple as it launches new products. For example, Cisco Systems originally owned both the iPhone and iOS trademarks, but Steve Jobs commandeered both of them. Tim Cook isn't as brazen as Jobs, and is probably more averse to starting trademark disputes.

Everyone was expecting Apple's wearable to be called the "iWatch," but instead it's "Apple Watch." The company had officially trademarked "iWatch" in numerous countries around the world, fueling speculation that it would be named as such. Swiss watchmaker Swatch challenged the trademark, arguing it was "confusingly similar" to its own iSwatch trademark.

Likewise, if Apple ever does launch a TV set, it likely won't be called the "iTV," since iTV is a major TV network in the U.K. and similarly owns the trademark. The network's launch predated Apple by a large margin, founded in 1955 as Independent Television, so this isn't a case of an iPiggybacker. Besides, there's nothing wrong with "Apple TV."

Segall argues that Apple is probably shifting toward a new branding strategy of "Apple [product name]," which makes sense on a number of levels. Not only does it avoid any potential legal complications, but it strengthens the link to the Apple brand. It also resembles Google's typical product naming convention.

He even considers the possibility of renaming existing products, although I think that's more trouble than it's worth. "Apple Phone" and "Apple Pad" sound too generic, when the company already has "iPhone" and "iPad" locked down in the mind of the consumer.

Why it matters to the business
Branding is one of the most important aspects of marketing strategy, and marketing has long been key to Apple's overall success. The "i" space is getting awfully crowded nowadays, mostly with products from other companies. Considering this overabundance, a move toward "Apple [product name]" is a more sustainable branding strategy going forward. Now Apple just needs to get away from numbering iPhones.

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Apple Inc. Stock Quote
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Cisco Systems, Inc. Stock Quote
Cisco Systems, Inc.
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