Well, unless it was a relevantly shaped camera, there’s something uniquely interesting, innovative, intelligent, but inevitably inane about using the lower ‘i’ as a prefix tacked on to a product name.
This article by BBC News discusses the phenomenon of the iPod, the iMac or anything that has an ‘i’ in front of it which somehow makes it hip and relevant.
I’ve had a little theory about this myself, ever since the company I work for changed their branding to reflect how hip, cool and cutting edge they apparently are and my theory has absolutely nothing to do with the personalisation theory mentioned in the above article (the ‘i’ in iPod gives a feeling of ownership, personalisation, relevance etc…) Comments on the article, for example, cite the distinct lack of customisation in the products of the forerunners of the iScene, Apple. iPods and iPhones are distinctly closed systems, aside from the obvious capability to download apps etc…
The company I work for (names have been changed to protect my sanity) had a name like Material Technology Global. Now their name is MTi. Now, to be fair the ‘i’ is a suffix here and not a prefix like with the iPod or iPhone, however it carries out the same function being distinctly lowercase and giving an air of modern technological suave charm, which is useful considering they are a highly technology driven company. For me though, since everyone inevitably asks the immortal “what does it mean” question (the ‘i’ in MTi, not life in general) I say it simply stands for ‘cool.’ MTcool. Because that’s all it is, an advertising and marketing ploy that plays on the zeitgeist of modern technological prowess in the form of things such as iPhones and iPods.
The example of the BBC iPlayer in the linked article is a good example since the iPlayer was a new feature introduced to the website to modernise and technologise the service they provided to both cater for a more modern userbase and also for ease of use and a more satisfying user experience all around. It sounds futuristic and capable. Imagine it was called the FunPlayer or the NewsPlayer. These both pigeonhole it into something a lot more pedestrian and boring. Kid-specific in the case of the former of the two.
Imagine something else though; imagine an iDog. What does that immediately conjure up in your mind? A robot dog who will play fetch and keep you company without the mess? Chances are I’m not far off the mark. How about an iGirl or an iBlade? (the last one would be disputed between the older and younger generation as to whether it’s a supercool nanotech sword or a nifty little shaving razor) The big question, though is, why do we have such specific ideas in mind when we hear product names like that? Well, it’s helpful to go back to the root of the iPhenomenon.
The first apparent appearance of the iPhenomenon is with the release of the iMac by Apple Computer in 1998 (although the trademark ‘iPOD’ was used as early as 1991). According to this video the ‘i’ in iMac stood both for internet, a booming phenomenon itself at that time, and for personalisation and individuality. The individuality aspect of the iMac can quite definitely be considered a factor in this case as the iMac was rather revolutionary in terms of design aesthetic, completely ridding the traditional computer user of the bulky CPU/Monitor combo and focusing solely on a rather cool integrated design, which at the time gave people a rather unique status among their peers. Owning an iMac would indeed have been something uniquely personal. Having grown up in the internet age and having come in contact with these alien creatures as a young teen I can certainly attest to this.
From there on however the iPhenomenon seemed to take on a life of it’s own, the iPod name itself seemingly evolving independently of the iMac lineage, inspired apparently by 2001: A Space Odyssey, though one can imagine a rather shrewd marketing executive in Apple making the connection between the iMac, the then new iBook and the iPod and predicting a trend. (I may in fact be completely wrong about this, though it doesn’t impact my understanding of the iPhenomenon)
Eager to capitalise on the success of Apple’s branding and marketing strategy the most random pieces of junk you could imagine being exported from Taiwan began sporting the iMoniker (the kind of crap that is so shitty you can’t even find it on the internet, as I have tried to do) though the iDog stands out as one of the more interesting evolutions of the iPhenomenon. (UPDATE: the iPlane and the iBox stand out as the worst offenders)
And so, here we are in the 21st century, with this immediate understanding of the sense of a product based on it’s name thanks to the success of Apple’s product line. It’s an understandable place to be when you consider the parallel case of the ePhenomenon. eMail, eBook, eForm etc… these things also have their distinct identity to us.
As a final pair of thought experiments for this discussion, imagine back 50 years and imagine a product called the iPen because it was unique, individual and inspirational. How successful would it have been…? And lastly, compare the difference in your imagination between an iDog and eDog. Subtly different, aren’t they?
EDIT: Apologies if the pacing of this article seems staggered, you can blame my work schedule for that!