Something interesting happened last year. In many ways, 2014 marked the beginning of the end of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) signature "i" branding. In fact, the last time Apple launched anything with the "i" brand was iCloud in 2011. That was four years ago.
Last year marked the first major introduction of a new product category in several years, and Apple's first smartwatch was officially named Apple Watch -- not iWatch. Apple's new payment service was also dubbed Apple Pay -- not iPay. Apple continued this trend this year with the launch of its on-demand music streaming service Apple Music -- not iMusic.
This is a branding strategy that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) has successfully implemented for years. Initially, Google had tried a form of "G" branding with services such as Gtalk or Gmail, but the search giant shifted to "Google [product or service]" pretty promptly. Sure, Google has a wide range of trademarks related to Android and its countless side projects, but it has stuck by the "Google [product or service]" format for all of its flagship offerings.
Here's why Apple is right to copy this strategy.
It's more sustainable in the long term
The original iMac was the first product to incorporate the "i" branding, which was launched nearly two decades ago in 1998. Since then, how many iProducts or iServices have been brought to market that have utterly nothing to do with Apple? A lot, and that's the problem. You can attach an "i" to any word, and it's not like Apple is going to go out and get trademarks for "i" combined with every word in the dictionary.
Since appending "i" to the beginning of a word is infinitely reproducible, the result over time has been a significant dilution of the brand. Apple doesn't want that. It doesn't want to be associated with the countless number of companies trying to piggyback on its branding. Instead, shifting to an "Apple [product or service]" is a better solution because it is easier to defend and less generic.
Consider the iPad, which was the last hardware product to launch with "i" branding in 2010. You may not be aware that "iPAD" was an existing trademark well before Apple launched its tablet. The bitter irony here is that a small Chinese company named Proview owned the iPAD trademark in China, using the name while ripping off Apple's iMac. Shortly after Apple announced the iPad tablet, Proview threw a fit when Apple tried to launch its tablet in China. Apple settled with Proview, which was in the process of going bankrupt, for $60 million in 2012.
This is the perfect example of why it was time to ditch the "i" branding strategy, and perhaps its not a coincidence that Apple hasn't launched an "i" product or service since.
What happens now?
Ken Segall, the marketing consultant who initially came up with the iMac name, suggested last year that Apple might consider transitioning its existing brands to the new format. Imagine Apple Phone and Apple Pad instead of iPhone and iPad.
This seems unlikely, though, since Apple's existing "i" brands are incredibly strong and enjoy instant global recognition, much like Gmail. But going forward, the "i" seems to have seen its last days, even if the broader media still casually sticks to referring to rumored products such as the iCar in this way.
From here on out, investors should expect only "Apple" products and services. It won't be iCar -- it will be Apple Car.