Will IBM Get Its ‘i’ Back After Apple Ditches Letter?
September 15, 2014 Alex Woodie
Apple’s big launch last week delivered the expected goodies, including the new Apple Watch and Apple Pay. But there was also something missing–namely, the letter “i.” The company is dropping the “i” from new products as part of CEO Tim Cook’s strategy to begin a new era for the company. But will the move give IBM the headroom it needs to finally begin heavily marketing its venerable IBM i platform before it’s too late?
The “i” has been a staple of Apple products since it launched iTunes and iPod in 2001. The ninth letter was heavily featured in Apple’s 2007 launch of the iPhone and its 2010 launch of the iPad, both of which run the iOS operating system. From iLife and iWork to iCloud and iBooks, “i” has always been there for Apple.
That is, until last week. While many expected Apple to launch the iWatch, the world’s most valuable company gave us the Apple Watch instead. And instead of iPay, we got Apple Pay. The new naming convention immediately caught the eyes of Apple watchers and industry analysts, who attributed the new scheme to CEO Cook’s effort to differentiate todayâ€™s Apple from the one ruled by Steve Jobs. (Cook, incidentally, mistakenly referred to the “iWatch” in at least one public appearance.)
Some analysts say “i” has lost its mojo and marketing pull for the company, and that shifting to Apple as the central glue will be a boon for the company. “The benefit is that all marketing spend and lift goes to ‘Apple,'” Moor Insights & Strategy principal analyst Pat Moorhead in told CNET in a recent story. The “i” had “lost its meaning,” Moorhead said.
Make no mistake: Apple is still using the “i” in its existing products. A new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 8, becomes available for download tomorrow. The iPhone and iPad are still huge money-makers for Apple. But going forward, don’t expect to see any new “i” products unveiled.
This is good news for IBM. While “i” may have lost its meaning for Apple, that lonely little letter is the only official vessel for the entire IBM midrange community. IBM has had a lot riding on “i” ever since it changed the name of the AS/400 to the e(logo)Server iSeries in 2000. In 2004, during the next name change, the “i” was retained with eServer i5 running i5/OS. Two years after that, it was shortened to just System i running i5/OS. In 2008, System i was changed to Power Systems, and i5/OS was changed to IBM i.
For the past 14 years, the letter “i” has been critical to IBM’s branding for this platform, but its marketing has been handcuffed by Apple’s use for almost as long. When the name of the operating system changed in 2008, IBM executives stressed that IT Jungle should never, ever, call it iOS. Apple’s lawyers had already fought a legal battle with Cisco over the iOS name, and Big Blue–which had fought and won to keep the eServer and iSeries names–didn’t want a dog in that fight. Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from calling it “i OS,” which is a technically accurate shorthand for the IBM i operating system, even if it is an uncomfortably close one for IBM executives. (Never underestimate the power of a space.)
Now that Apple has moved away from “i,” it gives IBM space to reclaim it for enterprise computing. The letter may have lost meaning for consumer electronics, but for the IBM Power Systems line of servers, “i” continues to be a major brand differentiator. People in the community may still call it the iSeries or the AS/400 (curiously, few call it System i or i5). But if the shift to “i” is ever going to be complete, IBM will need to put some marketing muscle behind it to remind people what exactly it is. Now is the perfect time.