Is the “iPhone” a red herring?

Obviously, the biggest mobility news so far this year has been the official announcement of the iPhone.

Does Steve Jobs think this product is a big deal? You betcha he does. Visit Apple’s website and you’ll be greeted with a big animated display of the product’s beautiful user interface and the not-so-subtle statement “Introducing iPhone. Apple reinvents the phone.” That echoes Jobs’ claim in the official announcement. He compared the revolutionary impact he expects from this product to the impact that the Macintosh had on computer user interfaces and that the iPod had on the music industry.

Which is why I’m baffled.

Why is this product called the iPhone?

Think about Apple’s history of naming new product categories. Apple II. Lisa. Macintosh. Newton. iPod. AirPort.

Do you notice a pattern? Neither do I. None of these is an extension of an existing name. None of them incorporate the existing product category they are intended to revolutionize. (According to Wikipedia, the Pod part of the iPod name comes from a somewhat obscure reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

The closest we can come to a boring extension name is the newly introduced Apple TV. But that product makes me even more suspicious. When the Apple TV was officially announced last year, it was announced as the iTV.

Which makes me think that Apple has no intention of releasing the iPhone. At least not named the iPhone. I’m guessing that Apple had decided before the announcement that they would announce this new product category as the iPhone, but when it’s actually released, give it a more fitting name – one deserving of a revolutionary product. That would help explain why Apple seemingly foolishly refused to come to terms with Cisco over using the iPhone name.

Why would Apple announce this product as the iPhone if they have no intention of actually calling it that?

I can think of a bunch of reasons.

The most obvious is to capture the already existing buzz around the iPhone name. For years, rumors have abounded of Apple building a phone and dramatically improving the user interface. Almost all of those rumors and resulting anticipation referenced such a product as the iPhone. Why throw away all that free publicity? Instead, Apple stoked it for all it was worth at the launch. Is there a risk that Apple will throw away that brand equity if they launch under a different name? Don’t bet on it. Now that the actual product has been announced, the anticipation and attention are high. I don’t care what Apple calls it, folks will be all over it.

Sticking with the publicity theme… The battle over the iPhone name is a wonderful thing. It’s obvious that the old saying “there’s no such thing as bad PR” quite simply isn’t true, but in this case, a stolen brand, a lawsuit, and a bunch of name calling is just adding more free attention and publicity to a teflon product. Apple had nothing to lose with using Cisco’s name and everything to gain (especially if they really didn’t plan on actually ultimately using the iPhone name).

Secondarily, the iPhone name has diverted the attention of competitors. The name iPhone speaks loudly that this is the combination of an iPod and a Phone – in other words, it’s “just” a music phone. But, it’s not a very good iPod, and it’s not likely to be a great phone. Positioning this product as a music phone leads to the conclusion that this isn’t all that revolutionary.

Which is great news for Apple. This misdirection will keep competitors from using the next six months to start closing the gap on what truly makes the iPhone revolutionary. The product currently known as the iPhone matters because it reinvents the mobile experience. In the same way that the Macintosh has never been the PC with the greatest features and the iPod has never been the portable music player with the greatest features, Apple shouldn’t sweat the fact that their phone may not have the greatest music phone features. Because what each of these products has done is reinvent the experience into one that the average Joe can sign on for.

As Brough Turner recently noted, the current mobile experience is turning even telecom professionals away from adopting the kinds of services that we all count on redefining the industry. My hope is that Apple’s product, whatever it’s called, will incent all of us in the industry to intensely focus on fixing that experience so that Apple doesn’t run away with the mobile device market the way they did the music player market (no, I don’t really think that’s possible in this mature of a market, but still…).

Finally, Apple loves to have fun, loves to keep secrets, and loves to keep its competitors guessing and off-guard.

This could be an interesting year!

2 Responses to “Is the “iPhone” a red herring?”

  1. Daily Report, Jan 23

    Team Collaboration Lotusphere 2007 Starts … IBM’s annual Lotusphere conference started in Orlando FL, with a set of new and updated software products being announced. For the first time, IBM is also hosting a virtual Lotusphere in Second Life. IBM

  2. […] Apple’s iPhone is most often compared to modern music phones. However, the real opportunity for the market (and the real threat to Samsung, Nokia and others) is in making mobile devices do so much more than just make phone calls and play songs. Building all kinds of products into the mobile device that you always have with you and mobilizing every service and process are areas of huge growth potential. However, these opportunities are constrained by the challenges of providing an intuitive and usable interface on a small device. […]

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