What's in a name?


So I wrote this piece on my blog a while ago, and I thought I'd share it here to see what you guys think!

TL;DR - A products name has a big impact on customer perception of a device.

In the world of technology, it seems that everyone has gotten caught up in the whirlwind that is the spec race. Everything from quad-core processors to full servings of RAM – even full HD screens…on a smartphone(!) – its happening all around us. However, the phones with the top specs don’t always claim the throne of best-seller. But why is that? Naturally, variables such as software, ecosystems, and possibly even brand loyalty play critical roles in a consumers purchase decision. But I think there’s also another factor, one that isn’t mentioned very often: the name.

A devices name is the identifying mark inscribed onto an object. It is a symbol, whether it be one of exclusiveness, speed, or whatever else the name is intended to spur in the consumers mind. A name should be something instantly recognizable with the majority of the populous. All product names should have a few common characteristics; they should be easy to remember, they should be descriptive, and they should be relevant. Unfortunately, a plethora of horribly-named devices exist amidst the few gems, and icons, of the tech world.

Let’s start with the good. While there are few devices with stand-out names, it’s not difficult to pick them out, because, well, they stand out. The most iconic and instantly-recognizable in the modern tech bubble is the iPhone. Such a simple name, yet simultaneously such a profound choice. While seemingly an obvious name for Apple’s revolutionary phone, the name is quite clever, actually. The use of the “i” prefix ensures a continuation of Apple’s brand. Starting with the iMac, and followed up with the iPod, the “i” trademark has become synonymous with anything Apple. Thus, the choice to stick it in front of “Phone” was a natural one. Apple built up a force to be reckoned with in its heavy marketing of the iSomething devices. The long history of customer satisfaction with products bearing this single letter prefix is like a wave, carrying any new product up to the top, almost immediately.

However, the history of the name isn’t the only facet. iPhone is also easy to remember. Its nearly just phone, but with an “i” in front. It doesn’t get any simpler. And last but not least, it actually describes the device, in context. Consumers are aware of the type of device, hence the “Phone” part, and they know its made by Apple due to the “i” prefix.

This last criterion is especially important. The descriptive nature of the product is responsible for conjuring a picture in the consumers mind. In the small niche of naming, which is encompassed by a broader “marketing division”, a word, and not a picture, takes the rein of utmost importance. There are several tech products who enlist creative names that are easily paired with their specific market.

Take for instance, the eReader business; the top two players in the field are the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble’s Nook lineup. Notice anything special about them? That’s right, their names. Kindle, in the context of Amazon’s marketing ploy, refers to cuddling up with a book, perhaps under the dim light of a lamp sitting idly in a mahogany library, with the barely distinguishable sound of rain, drizzling outside. People can relate to such a word, and want to achieve this ideal situation. Similarly, the name Nook, refers to a small space, reserved for a nice afternoon read under the warmth of the summer sun. Clearly, a name can bring about fantasy-like feelings, all while enticing the consumer to purchase the relevant product.

Meanwhile, for all of the fantastic names created by talented marketing teams, there is an immeasurable tower of cringe-worthy names. To start off, look no further then the name of Sprint’s iteration of Samsung’s Galaxy S II smartphone: the Sprint Samsung Galaxy S™ II, Epic™ 4G Touch. Really? Really? If you’re going to include all of that, you might as well have thrown in how much RAM it has, the size of its battery, and its screen resolution. I mean, the name is so ridiculous, it makes you wonder if Samsung and Sprint are collaborating on some evil joke.

But no, it’s real. Very real. There’s so much wrong with it that I don’t even know where to start. It takes about 3 reads to truly even grasp the entire meaning. Its far too difficult to remember if you wish to tell someone else about it, and even if you do remember, it takes nearly a full minute to spit the full name out. And it just isn’t creative. It seems as if a few random words were chosen from the spec list, put together, and then mixed with wannabe-profound words such as “Epic”. Any sane person would never name something in that manner. I think a lesson we can all learn here, whether you are a marketer, or just a random individual, is this: if a name needs a comma, its probably not a good name.

But it doesn’t stop there. A trend has started within the Android community of giving phones seemingly-random names that literally come out of nowhere, and serve literally no purpose whatsoever. Inspire. Amaze. Triumph. Sensation. None. That last one is a joke, but it just goes to show that having no name at all would have the same effect as all of the other arbitrary choices. First of all, if I were to randomly ask someone off the street who makes one of the previously mentioned devices, chances are they won’t know. Contrarily, if I ask who makes the iPhone, its almost guaranteed that Apple will be the universal answer. That should be the ultimate goal of an individual or team responsible for naming a device.

Luckily, in areas most affected, such as the Android smartphone space, and more specifically, HTC’s plethora of devices, progress is being made. HTC recently released the One Series, comprising of just three phones: the One X, One S, and One V, each filling in the high, mid, and low ends of the market, respectively. This slimming down is in deep contrast to its past ways, in which they released as many as 14 Android-powered phone in a single year. The naming scheme also shows progress, with a unified “One” mantra, subsequently divided into sub-groups of X, S, and V. Android manufacturers, take note, and follow HTC’s lead.

With that, I leave you with this: a name should be intriguing, fun, memorable, and profound. Not a spec list.

P.S. - I posted this in the Apple Forum for no reason. I didn't really know where exactly it'd fit, so I just put it somewhere random. Hope you guys don't mind.