It just so happened that today, on the very day that Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPad, I found myself in a Starbucks. Not that I particularly like Starbucks, but I really needed a coffee, and apparently there is a law in New York City dictating that there must be at least three Starbucks coffee shops on every block in this great city. So of course the nearest place to get a cup of coffee was you-know-what.
Amazingly, when I asked for a small cup of coffee, the lady behind the counter did not correct me and say “you mean a Tall cup of coffee?” No, she actually let it go, allowing me to just order my coffee; she didn’t respond with a sentence containing “branding” words like “Tall” or “Grande” or “Venti”. I felt a sort of kinship with her in that moment, the recognition that one is talking to a reasonable human being, not just another hapless human face hired to hide the essential impersonality of a soulless corporation.
Which brings me to Steve Jobs’ announcement. Clearly there is an ongoing attempt on the part of Apple Computer to lay claim to the letter “i” as a prefix, what with product names like iMac, iMovie, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. But is this possible? Does it count that IMAX is already called, well, IMAX? Or maybe that one’s ok, because IMAX is ALL IN CAPS, which means that it denotes something huge, grandiose, bigger than you are, whereas Apple’s cutely diminutive “i” suggests something adorable, reminiscent of the long-lost teddy bear from your early childhood, a special little friend that you’ll just want to curl up with at night, sharing stories and hot cocoa.
I’m wondering whether Apple will succeed in this quest. It’s not clear to me that you can actually get intellectual property protection on the “i” prefix. It’s a pattern – and patterns are not covered by U.S. copyright law. And I’m pretty sure you can’t patent it. It’s probably too late to sue Robert Graves for “I Claudius”, but I’m sure that if there’s a way, Apple will find it.
In the future, of course, anything might happen. Maybe Apple and Microsoft will merge, and we will end up with iWindows, which would be kind of boring. It would be much more fun if Apple were to merge with other industries. If they make a pogo stick it could be called the iHop (oh wait – that one’s already taken). Perhaps if they came out with a high-tech vacuum cleaner, they could call it the iSuck. Although more likely it would be called iRobot (oh wait, that one’s taken too).
As long as we are doing corporate branding mash-ups, I really like “iVenti”. I hope that’s still in the public domain. It sounds a lot like “I vent”, which does a good job of describing today’s post. 🙂