Saturday, 7 November 2009

Naming the Coolest Technologies

When Intel had developed the successor to the i486 and was getting ready for its launch, they had the name i586 in mind for the new processor. Intel wanted to trademark this name because of competitors using similar names with the numbers (such as Am486 from AMD), but US courts would not allow numbers as trademarks. Intel asked Lexicon Branding to create a brand that could be trademarked for their new processors. The name Pentium was suggested as it contained "Pente" meaning five in Greek and "ium" which is the Latin ending for neutral nouns.

Who doesn't know about the Walkman? Ever since the first one was launched in 1979, the name has become synonymous to a personal stereo player. The device was designed by Sony audio division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara for Sony co-chairman Akio Morita who wanted to be able to listen to operas during his transatlantic plane trips. The name Walkman expresses the freedom to listen to music while walking down the street. Although it was marketed as Walkman only in Japan, it was known as Soundabout in many countries including US, Freestyle in Sweden and Stowaway in the UK. The name Walkman eventually was found to be more popular and hence the other two names were dropped.

While the development of Apple's MP3 player was in progress, Steve Jobs expressed his vision of the MP3 player as a hub to other gadgets. Freelancer copywriter Vinnie Chieco, whom Apple had hired to help arrive at a name, brainstormed hubs of all kinds and eventually decided to come up with something related to spaceships, where you can leave it for some time, but will have to eventually return to refuel. The plastic front of the prototype MP3 player inspired him with the word "pod", while the 'i' gives it the Mac connection. The MP3 player was thus christened iPod.

In 2001, Canadian company Research In Mobile asked Lexicon Branding to give a name for its new e-mail device. Research suggests that the word "e-mail" can increase your blood pressure, so the consultancy asked RIMs founder to distance the name of this new device from that word. Rather, they tried to come up with a word for a name to evoke feelings of joy and peace. Just then, someone made a comment that the keys on the device looked like seeds, which got Lexicon team to search for words such as melon, strawberry and various other vegetables. Finally, they arrived at 'BlackBerry', which is a word that is both pleasing as well as brought up the black colour of the device.

As you may already know, Android is Google's newest operating system for mobile devices with Open Handset Alliance supporting this platform. But do you know how it got its name? When work started on this project in 2005, Google quietly acquired a mysterious startup named Android Inc. According to the BusinessWeek, this startup had been working under "a cloak of secrecy" on "making software for mobile phones". Leaked news and internet hype combined with Google's secrecy resulted into the name "Android" getting stuck to this.

Mozilla did have its share of problems naming its famous browser. An early version of Mozilla's browser was called Firebird, but since that name was already being used by another open-source project, the browser was named Firefox instead. Firefox is another name for red panda. When asked why this browser was named so, the reply of Mozilla elders was, "It's easy to remember. It sounds good. It's unique. We like it."

The only thing that came to cofounder Biz Stone's mind when he saw the application created by Jack Dorsey in 2006 was the way birds communicate - "Short bursts of information...Everyone is chirping, having a good time." Stone responded by "twttr" and they eventually added a few vowels to come to "Twitter". Thus, what started as being described as merely trivial bursts of bird communication, has become one of the most popular and powerful means of social networking, news, etc. You can now find "Follow on Twitter" links on practically every website today.

The highly reliable and respected lineup of notebook computers from IBM was launched in 1992. But before they could launch it, they just could not come up with a name to give it. While the pen-computing group of IBM wanted to keep it simple and thought about ThinkPad, the corporate naming committee didn't like it. IBM products always had a number in the name and they wanted to carry on that tradition with this new notebook range. Also, they wondered how the word ThinkPad would translate into other languages. "ThinkPad" eventually won due to the clout of the IBMer who unveiled it and went on to become a huge hit.

Windows 7
There was a whole lot of speculation as to what the newest iteration of Windows will be named as. Windows Vista has been disappointing for Microsoft, so they did not want to go with any similar naming convention. Meanwhile, Windows releases preceded by a numeral have done remarkably well. The reason can be anything, but the name became clear when Microsoft's Mike Nash announced, "Simply put, this is the seventh release of Windows, so therefore 'Windows 7' just makes sense." As has been seen thus far, this is probably on its way to become the most successful OS from Microsoft since a long time.

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Kindle is arguably the device that revolutionized the way e-books are read. Kindle was named by a husband and wife team of designers from San Francisco, Michael Cronan and Karen Hibma. Cronan was asked by Lab126 - an company, to name this device. According to Hibma, Michael came up with the name through the usual practice of exploring the depths of what the potential of the new product could be and how the company would like to present it.

Hibma says, "We didn't want it to be 'techie' or trite, and we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from 'I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book' to 'When I'm stuck in the airport or in line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I'm reading." Kindle means to burn or set alight, to arouse or be aroused, or to make or become bright. It has its roots in the Old Norse word kyndill, meaning candle.

Hibma says, "From Voltaire: 'The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all'."