What does the “i” in iPhone mean? Will it disappear from Apple's iconic smartphone one day?

Steve Jobs presenting the first iPhone in San Francisco in 2007. Credits: Blake Patterson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Second Ken Segallthe creative who convinced 26 years ago Steve Jobs to include the prefix “the” in the name of the first Macintosh computer marketed after its return to Apple (the iMac), today Apple would no longer be right to use the “i” on its products. This is because the “i” was used to label devices that were capable of connecting to the Internet, which was not a given in the 90s and early 2000s, unlike today. Indeed, the “i” was no longer used for products presented after Steve Jobs' death.

This explains why, according to what Segall (and other experts in the advertising world) said: the iPhone could be renamed Apple Phone in the future. It seems very unlikely that Apple will go this far, even if the iconic “i” has already been eliminated from some Apple products (for example, iTunes has become Apple Music).

The meaning of the “i” in the names of some Apple products

On why Apple decided to adopt the “the” A lot has been said about some of its products. One of the most imaginative hypotheses is that according to which the prefix was a sort of “tribute” to Jonathan Ivethe famous designer who from 1997 to 2019 designed the lines and curves that made the technological products of the Cupertino company famous.

Actually, the meaning of “i” was revealed in a slide recalled by Steve Jobs himself during the presentation of the iMac on May 6, 1998. The prefix in question contained within it a profound meaning of renewal and change for the Cupertino company, which for a relatively short time had welcomed its co-founder back after an absence of 12 years (from 1985 to 1997). A change that could in fact be summed up through five words, which actually had the “i” as the initial, and which clearly defined the purposes for which the iMac was conceived:

  • Internet: Allow users to easily access the Internet.
  • individual (individual): be an autonomous product.
  • instruct (educate): be useful for education.
  • inform (inform): allow users to inform themselves on the Web.
  • inspire (inspire): foster inspiration to do new things in the future.
Steve Jobs explains the meaning of the “i” during the presentation of the iMac. Credits: Joshua G via YouTube.

Since the presentation of the first iMac, the “i” has become something of a trademark for many Apple products, including theiBooks (a portable computer, later replaced with the MacBook), theiPod (Apple's music player, no longer on sale today), theiPhone (Apple's smartphone) andiPad (the tablet produced by the company). The prefix has also been used to distinguish some services, including iCloud, iTunes and the suite iWork (which includes the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote applications).

According to what Segall stated in the article The End of 'iPhone' (“The end of the iPhone”), for Apple it would be time to abandon the “i” once and for all (despite the fact that it is, in fact, one of its lucky inventions). Here's what he said about it:

The “i” has to go. It is now meaningless. Sure, (Jobs) built (Apple) around it, but remember the “i” has always been a sub-brand. There may be marketers who say Apple would be crazy to abandon the prefix – it's still ahead of some of the biggest brands ever – but it can't be protected, and for too long there have been companies with things connected to the Internet with the “i,” and that's a problem for Apple, known for innovation.

He is also of the same opinion Ashwinn Krishnaswamya partner at New York branding agency Forge Coop, said:

Connectivity is ubiquitous today. There is no longer the concept of online versus offline, so it makes little sense to add an “i” to products. It's overused, it's dated.

Apple's post-Steve Jobs policy

In fact, Apple has already demonstrated that it has abandoned the use of the “i”. Just think about the post-Steve Jobs Apple policywhich saw the debut of products orphaned from the iconic lowercase initial, including Apple Watch (which apparently wasn't called iWatch also due to a small startup that had registered the trademark before Apple), Apple Pencil (which was not called iPencil), Apple Vision Pro (Apple's mixed reality headset) e Apple Music (Apple's music streaming service, which was not named iMusic).

Doing the math, therefore, Apple's direction seems to have changed profoundly since Tim Cook took the reins of the company. The only products that continue to keep the “i” are in fact those designed and announced by Steve Jobs (with the exception of Apple TV which, apparently, was not called iTV to avoid legal disputes with the independent British television network ITV).