Experts Discuss the Potential End of Apple's “i” Era

Why the “i” Prefix May Soon Disappear from Apple Products

by Faruk Imamovic
Experts Discuss the Potential End of Apple's “i” Era
© Getty Images/Tom Pennington

Last week's launch of more powerful iPads indicates that, for now, Apple is sticking with its iconic “i” prefix for this line of products. However, brand experts and Ken Segall, the man who named the first i-prefixed Apple product, believe that the days of the "i" prefix might be numbered.

The Birth and Legacy of the “i” Prefix

In 1998, Ken Segall, then a copywriter for the advertising agency TBWAChiatDay, convinced Steve Jobs to name the new Apple computer “iMac” instead of the internally-developed “MacMan.” The iMac was designed to be an easy-to-use, internet-ready machine at a time when getting online was often a challenge. Its success led to a slew of other “i” products, from the iBook to the iPod and iCloud.

Segall recalls how the iMac’s name came to be. “iMac referenced the Mac, and the ‘i’ meant internet,” Segall says. “But it also meant individual, imaginative, and I, as in me.” This clever naming strategy not only saved Apple from near bankruptcy but also paved the way for future products carrying the same prefix.

A Changing Brand Landscape

Despite the historical success of the “i” prefix, Segall now believes it’s time for a change. “The 'i' needs to go,” he says. “It's now meaningless. It can't be protected, and for too long there have been companies with 'i' internet-connected things, and that's an issue for Apple, known for innovation.”

Ashwinn Krishnaswamy, a partner at the New York-based branding agency Forge Coop, agrees. “Connectivity is ubiquitous today. There's less of this notion of online versus offline, so it makes little sense to append an 'i' to products. It's overused, it's dated.”

Dropping the “i” prefix, even for a product as iconic as the iPhone, would not harm Apple’s sales, Krishnaswamy believes. “Apple could call it virtually anything, and we're still going to buy it. If they said there will be no more iPhones—here's the Apple Phone—we'll start calling it the Apple Phone. Apple has such massive distribution, brand, and product awareness.”

Anton Perreau from the communications agency Battenhall also thinks Apple wouldn't lose sales by dropping the “i” but predicts the change won't happen until a significant redesign of the iPhone. “The iPhone has such a level of fame and goodwill. They’ve spent so much time and money building the brand equity in the iPhone, so the change won't happen until Apple brings out a product that could have even stronger brand equity.”

IPhone windows display
IPhone windows display© Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

The Evolution of Apple's Product Names

Apple has already shown signs of moving away from the “i” prefix. Products like the Apple Watch and the Apple Vision Pro reflect this shift. Perreau notes, “The newer names show a strategic evolution. Apple didn't announce they'd dropped the ‘i,’ they just haven't said anything about it. The brand isn't ‘i,’ the brand is Apple.”

The trend away from the “i” prefix isn't entirely new. In 2007, Apple introduced Apple TV instead of the expected iTV. Legal issues with the UK’s Independent Television network, known as ITV, likely influenced this decision. Similarly, Apple chose not to pursue the name “iWatch” for its smartwatch, possibly due to potential trademark conflicts.

The Future of Apple's Branding Strategy

Segall believes that if Apple did drop the “i” prefix, it wouldn't be the company's most significant makeover. “Apple has done some amazingly bold, rash, risky things in the past,” he says. “Every time they changed processors or transformed the OS, experts were like, 'Oh my, seriously? You're gonna rebuild the operating system, or you're going to transition to a whole new hardware platform?' But Apple did it.”

Apple's legendary 1997 “Think Different” campaign, which Segall helped create, exemplifies the company's willingness to innovate and take risks. The campaign, launched when Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy, aimed to reinvigorate the brand’s image. It succeeded, but it was the iMac’s launch in 1998 that truly turned the company’s fortunes around.

The iMac’s success demonstrated Apple's ability to capture consumers' imaginations. Segall remembers the moment well: “We knew this was the computer that had to save Apple. That's how we had been briefed on it before we saw it. When it had been unveiled to our team, our mouths hit the floor. It was very, very bold. I looked at that computer and, like many in the room, doubted it would sell. That proves I'm not a visionary. I am simply a guy who can write good words for a visionary. [Jobs] and Jony Ive thought the iMac was going to change the world. It certainly saved Apple.”

Although Segall’s original proposal for the “i” prefix envisioned it being used across a range of products, he acknowledges that Apple without Jobs is a different company. “[Jobs] couldn't be replaced by one person. He inflicted his high level of taste upon all parts of Apple, always staying true to core values, including thinking differently. Little by little, that has been chipped away over the years,” he says.

Segall is confident that the spirit of innovation will continue. “We’ll never know what [Jobs] would have done had he lived longer. But he wouldn’t have been afraid to scrap the ‘i.’”