Wherefore art thou iPhone?

“Wherefore art thou …” is the most incorrectly quoted piece of Shakespeare I know. In this short piece, I wonder “why is the iPhone thus named?”.

A couple months back I wrote some thoughts about the rumoured iPhone. To be honest, after Cisco released their own iPhone product, I thought it a fair chance that the Apple iPhone was non-existant. Some of the rumours were sketchy enough that Chinese Whispers) would account for the confusion. Obviously not.

In my original post, I wrote that “it would be ludicrous to put aside the huge mindshare behind their most successful product and supplant the iPod with a superior device.” My prediction was that an Apple phone would be branded as an iPod. I was wrong, evidently.

I understand that Apple thinks that the iPhone is the next Big Thing. I don’t blame them. Considering the differences between the iPod and the iPhone — hardware, operating system, interface, design, the people working on the thing — I can understand why the product is viewed in isolation and introduced to the world the same way. It’s totally new, and deserves a totally new name.

But it’s not just a phone. Steve Jobs touted that fact during the keynote — (paraphrasing) “we’re introducing three new products today…a touchscreen iPod…a phone…and an internet communicator” (whatever he meant by that last one — perhaps it will end up having iChat installed as well).

Here’s my argument in a nutshell: the iPod has a wonderfully ambiguous product name, and it does more than one thing (now; i.e., play movies). The iPhone, by contrast, already is more than a phone, but its name does not reflect that. In five years time when we’re all carrying around iPhones but using them more for web access and music, won’t that be a little weird?

The fact that most people carry mobile phones and many people carry iPods should make it fairly evident that one day the functionality of the two devices will merge. I’ve heard of some very new mobile phones with hard drives that give a classical iPod a good run for its money. As it stands, the iPhone will now (very slowly) cannibalise iPod sales until the iPod brand no longer exists. By calling its new product the “iPhone” and *not the “iPod phone”, Apple has doomed its most popular product line ever. This echoes the demise of the Apple II after the Mac was introduced in the eighties, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Has “iPod” become such a generic term that people view it exclusively as a music player and wouldn’t warm to the idea of also using it as a phone? Perhaps. On the other hand (to use a word that John Gruber popularised) the parlay from iPod to “iPod phone” is a piece of cake. And like I said, the iPhone is more than a phone, so why not call it an iPod?

My secret desire is the whole Cisco lawsuit thing will end up forcing Apple to change the name of their device to something like “iPod phone”. (Reports from the expo say there isn’t actually a brand name on the demo units.) I just makes more sense that way when you look at the device in its historical context. And many people will be using the thing more as an iPod anyway. But I can live with a bad name. It’s the actual product that counts, and, well, I think it speaks for itself.