Does Apple have a branding problem? In search of the iTouch

Does Apple have a branding problem? In search of the iTouch

I work at a local Apple Specialist on the weekends - an independent reseller authorized by Apple to sell and service Macs and iOS devices. If the customers who come through our doors are any indication, Apple has a weird problem on its hands - customers aren't remembering the names of its products very well. Is it time to rethink how Apple brands its products?

The number one case of mistaken identity is the "iTouch." People bring in "iTouches" for repair or ask about how much the "iTouch" costs all the time. They're referring to the iPod touch, of course, but that's been truncated to "iTouch" and repeated more often than not. Really. More people identify that product as the "iTouch" than "iPod touch."

We don't sell or service the iPhone 5, but we get a lot of questions anyway. And more often than not, it's about the "i5." Not the iPhone 5, just the "i5." Sometimes they'll have an "i4" that they'll need help with. Sometimes the appellations get even more meaningless. Someone asking about an "iTouch 5" might mean an iPhone 5 or an iPod touch fifth generation. Or they might just be confused.

Macs don't fare much better. iMacs are pretty well known, but MacBook Airs are commonly called "Mac Airs" or "AirBooks" or some variation thereof. Same with the MacBook Pros - "Mac Pro Book" or "Mac Pro," but only about half the time do they actually get called "MacBook Pros."

In fairness, Apple's branding isn't at all the mess that you find at some tech companies which name their products like some automobile makers. Alongside the MacBook Pros and iPod touches we sell, we also sell products with nonsense names like the HP Envy 120 or the Canon Pixma MX892. Could be a BMW 330i for all that name means. Though the BMW undoubtedly has better brand recognition.

It makes me wonder what's causing the confusion. Apple's product names are pretty easy to keep track of, but for a sizeable segment of the customer base, they still don't mean anything. Customers know what they want, or have a general idea of what they want, and can easily identify on sight what they're looking for. But expecting them to articulate it with actual product names is a hit or miss proposition.

This makes it especially interesting when customers call for help on the phone. The first order of business is figuring out what product they have. And that's easier said than done, especially if they're looking for a specific accessory.

It's a good reminder for me that we who write about this stuff - and many, if not most, of our readers - live inside a comfortable bubble of technology and specialized technical literacy that still remains impenetrable for many people.

And many of those people have absolutely no interest in developing that literacy. Because for them, Macs and iOS devices are simple means to an end - it helps me make phone calls, or I can play Angry Birds on it, or I can surf the Web with it, or use it to talk with my grandkids on the other side of the country.

It's a sign of Apple's continued success as a mainstream consumer electronics company. The focus has shifted away from highly skilled people with specialized knowledge using these products, to general consumers who couldn't care less, as long as the products do what they want them to do.

At the end of the day, we at the store really don't care what people call the devices they're looking to buy or have serviced, as long as they're actually coming in the door and spending money.

But can Apple be doing more to simplify what its products are called?

I can't help but think all those people looking for "iTouches" are on to something.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 47 comments. Add yours.

tankcole says:

I am to find glad this article was written. I hear "iTouch" more than anything and the use of that word makes me cringe. No, I don't think Apples products are confusingly named. In my humble opinion, most people just don't pay attention to details.

erikbock says:

I hear the iTouch all the time. I have to say though I have never heard an iPhone called an i5 or i4 etc... I do hear the Mac Air occasionally but as for the rest of them not so much. One I also hear is Apple TV as ATV.

Becjr says:

I think too many people are trying too hard to sound trendy and create the next 15 minute famous phrase. I think it's about socially fitting in with the popular click crowd.

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Jay Imerman says:

Definitely not. Peter has hit the nail on the head, I see it daily. Apple indeed has a manageable number of choices, and a relatively small number of product lines. No matter how they simplify it, people are lazy and not rigorous about their language in general. Not just in technology, but everywhere do we see this. As a computing professional for 3 decades, the toughest challenge I face on each project is human communication.

renstein says:

It is actually amazing that they have gotten this far into non-technical people's heads. It' a bit off, sure, but they have something that is more than just an 'Apple'. Ask people what kind of TV they have, and they will just give you the brand name and size; ask them what kind of fridge they have, and you will just get a brand name and a description; ask most people what kind of PC they have, and you'll just get a brand name. For most people, technology is not their hobby, they don't care about what the proper name for it is, they just want to use it. It is amazing that Apple has been able to get them to even remember part of it.

Stopov says:

Or ask some folks what kind of car they have and they'll say "Green", mechanics parachute into the parking lot to fix those folks cars!

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rewNATION says:

Not a branding problem at all. People that aren't very tech savvy are probably the ones that have no clue what they're using. I would say most people in the younger demographic know exactly what their devices are called.

jgabler5025 says:

Nope. Nope nope nope. "iTouch" is one of the most common misnomers among the younger demographic. My daily driver smart device is a 5th Gen iPod touch, and when I moved to it soon after it came out, most people asked if it was the new "iTouch." Even CS people. Makes me cringe every time.

Jay Imerman says:

Hmm, is 40+ the younger generation? That's typically where I hear it. My wife says "thing" all the time in place of the specific word for the thing, bugs me to no end! Ah well, doesn't mean you give up trying.

sting7k says:

People just don't care, that's it. All that money spent on marketing. No one cares. It's that simple.

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macnaticopr says:

I don't think there's a problem, those who don't obsess about technology don't care what they use or what is called (my wife and my mom and dad would be great examples). I would love to know what those who use Dells or Acers or Androids for that matter, call their devices.

Hi, I need help with my Dell XPS-720MHN-Z456 (no way in hell that happens). They just say my windows won't start.

So, even though Apple's lineup has logical and easy to remember names, those who just start using stuff and don't care who makes it so long as it does what they need, won't know what it is or care that much. Only techies see a MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the rest of humanity see "that skiny laptop with a great screen."

adambanksdotcom says:

Agree with @renstein. Most product names mean absolutely nothing to the user; Apple's are relatively memorable, but if users still don't give a crap, that only increases my respect for users. FYI, at MacUser we call "iTouch" and its ilk "malappleprisms".

Derrick4Real says:

it's common. I've heard this often. I'm not sure it's "a branding problem" or even a problem in that i don't think it's stopping people from buying. But i do think you can expect this when every brand is some mish mash of mac, i, book, air, pad, pro, pod, phone, and touch. Also i think "air" and "touch" does nothing but confuse the layman. I honestly didn't know what they were talking about when they announce a new "mac pro." I was thought they meant the laptop until i began to understand it was a replacement for their servers. Adding these qualifiers like pro, air, retina, touch confuse the lay person. I also don't think the Apple website helps. it's pretty but organizationally it's not linear. You click on Mac, then MacBook Pro and get a picture filled info page. I think it would be better to go straight to a page of all laptops cheapest to most expensive. That's how people think. I'd leave the pretty picture filled page for maybe farther down or a seperate page.

Michael Ellis Day says:

People are inadvertently finding simpler ways to say these names that fits around their mouths more easily, and in this case Apple could do a lot worse than to pay attention to what the general public is telling them about names. Objectively speaking, "iTouch" is a better name and easier to say and remember than "iPod Touch." And "Mac Book Air" and "Mac Book Pro" could shed a syllable without losing clarity and vastly improving casual shopper recall.

Obviously many people who read a blog like this one will disagree: that's because the majority of people who read or seek out a specifically Apple-oriented blog are *by definition* high-information consumers compared with the general public. Sneering at regular punters for "not caring enough to know the difference" is not the Apple outlook and that sort of attitude doesn't help anyone.

wormeyman says:

It would also make sense for apple to rebrand as iTouches i think everyone i know calls them that.

Jhan Stevens says:

I don't think Apple has problem - I think you do, or you're just trying to create one where none exists.

When people call an iPod Touch just an iTouch - that's just a shortened version for ease of conversation. It's the same thing that people do with companies like McDonald's, known affectionately to millions, if not billions, as Mickey D's. Or perhaps the best example is that funky new company with the really long name known as Federal Express. So many people casually shortened the name to FedEx that the company changed its own name - literally.

People adapt.
You should too.

dawggg63 says:

iDontCare... (sorry, couldn't resist)

claustin says:

It's not so much a problem as just par for the coarse when trying to appeal to the average consumer who, like many have said, don't care so much what a device is called so much as what it can do for them. I worked for an Apple Store as a "Specialist" (sales person) a few years back and one of Apple's points of emphasis (at least then, no idea now) was to find out what a customer wanted to do and direct them to the system (they called it a "solution") that best suited their needs. We actually weren't encouraged to up-sell to a higher priced machine, like say a 17" Macbook Pro, when the regular Macbook was all they needed (although we would obviously show them everything and let them decide what they wanted). We were encouraged to push add-ons like iWork and .Mac and Applecare, as well as accessories or printers, but not actually up-selling to an unnecessary system. Apple knows that the majority of customers are uneducated about their products, and our job was to do the educating.

iSRS says:

I do love that about the Apple Store. They ask what you are doing, using it for and suggest the best solution. Not, hey, this dummy is willing to spent 200% more than they will ever need, so lets do this!

TomTweetz says:

I think people call it "iTouch" because this is the better name for the device, actually.

Here in Germany, people always confuse MacBook, iBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and PowerBook. But that's is not their fault imho. For regular people those names are indeed confusing.

dshanah says:

Agreed, it should be called the iTouch.

A large part of the problem is many companies, not just Apple, keep *changing* their product names too -- after years of PowerBooks Apple suddenly introduced the iBook and then a few years later both names were replaced by MacBook, with stuff like Pro and Air and so forth tacked on over time. To a non-technical consumer who doesn't obsessively follow every Apple event that's all very confusing and so they just do the best they can with what they can recall about the name.

I know a very non-technical person who I've helped a lot with setting up and supporting her iMac, iPad, Airport Express and other things who cannot cope with Apple's product name capitalization issues -- every email she sends me has variations like I-Pad, i-mac, ipad, etc., every combination except the correct ones. She has *never* got it correct! I have to bite my tongue every time and stop myself from correcting her. Oh, and she always calls her Airport Express her "Airporter" for some reason...

As long as they keep buying your products however, it's not really a huge problem.

Gazoobee says:

I don't think this is anything to do with Apple or their product names, it's just people nowadays especially in the US are just lazy, and ignorant. I know that sounds bad but I really think it's the case. Literacy skills have never been lower, IQ scores have never been lower, and education in general has never been in a worse state. Everything is as abbreviated and as short as it can be now.

It's the same with product names from other companies, or place names, or even famous people's names, no one seems to want to say the whole thing anymore. It's always initials or short form words like nicknames. There are lots of pop stars with single syllable names for instance, but even that is too long, or "too hard to say,"so the public shortens them with a nickname. it's not "Rhianna" it's "RiRi," it's not "50 cent" it's "50" or even "fiddy."

If your name has more than two syllables, no one wants to pronounce it. If your article is longer than three paragraphs, no one wants to read it. If a movie has dialogue scenes, it's "boring" whereas if the characters just mouth a lot of catch phrases, it's "fast paced."

LozBlanko says:

I don't think Apple help themselves either. I've owned almost every iPhone and they've all just said iPhone on the back. How is someone like my mum supposed to know what model her's is other than "it's an iPhone"?
Also, try working out what RAM chips you need for an old Mac. It'll take you a while to work out what the hell model it was even if you thought you knew.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

My favorite was someone that came in asking how much it was to replace a battery in a Touch nano. That was a new one even for me.

Mitheledh says:

I can't say I'm really surprised. For as long as I can remember, Apple products have been locked down, easy to use and difficult to screw up. That sort of thing tends to appeal to the technologically illiterate.

Gustav_4 says:

I think the iPod touch should be the iPad nano. Ever since the iPod touch came out it has been so much more than an iPod. Don't get me wrong I loved my iPod. But now I would never buy a classic or a iPod Nano as I can do so much more with a touch, iPhone, or iPad. There is a reason we don't call iPads "iPod Touch XL". Apple should rebrand and Categorize it into the iPad line. Also "Apple TV" Should be "iTV".

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Peter Cohen says:

Apple TV isn't iTV because the copyright is already held by someone else.

mazzmoney95 says:

I think this is a consumer problem more than an apple problem. Yes, in my humble opinion I think people should know the name of anything the drop $500 on. I think they should read reviews and know what they are spending all their money on, especially for that price. I'm only 18 but I have not once paid that much for an item to not remember it's name. That's crazy to me.

I think apple has much much better branding than almost everyone else, and at this point it's up to the consumer to remember the name of that $500 device they carry on them every day.

Earless Puppy says:

I'm not surprised that a form of Ebonics transferred to the tech sector. The whole English language is butchered, why are you surprised product names are? Do you think most people know the name of their dell or acre laptops? I blame this on the people not the product, if the Zune (haha) survived, the same issue would be at hand...

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melbsteve says:

good read, thanks :) I too hear iTouch all the time, I've kind of gotten used to it. Sometimes think 'why not drop the 'Pod' in it?', but it would certainly complicate the whole product line. We have a Phone series, a Pod series, a Pad series. Can't think of a way to simplify it even further.

EauRouge says:

This was a great read. Not saying that other articles on imore aren't good, but this one stands out. brilliant!

AbleRiot says:

iPod->iPod Video->iPod Shuffle->iPod Nano->iPod Touch. "Touch" is the iPod model! Not once have I heard iShuffle, iNano, iVideo. It's people being lazy stupid. I call it a MacBook Pro, my iPhone ..

williamsbh76 says:

As long as the iPod has been around I can't understand the confusion with iPods. If anything, a lot of people refer to any MP3 player as an iPod. Heck I can recall many people calling any touch screen phone an iPhone. Itouch... That's hilarious.

Dionte says:

I wish they would just release an iWatch made from the little square i device, I forget the name of it. If i could see who's calling, see a text messages maybe even notifications without pulling my phone out my man bag that would be awesome.

Expee says:

The problem is... People get dumber and dumber. Society dumbs down in an ever increasing way.
Having worked at the counter of a gas station I could recognize it myself.
Everything needs to be easy now. so they say. It's not only for convenience. It has become a necessity because many people have become unable to perform even the easiest most basic of tasks.
It got to the point where people are too dumb or too lazy to use a simple vending machine for coffee.
"Just put in the money and push the button of the product u'd like to drink". Too hard for way too many guys...

Orealy YouThink says:

Coffee machine at Starbucks? Where?
You are so correct.

zdn1042 says:

Yup, I hear "iTouch" all the time. Is another company already using this name?

Team George says:

I guess ultimately the name "iPod" is dead because it's now more of an app that you expect to find in all Apple hardware, so rebranding to the "Itouch", "Iwatch" and "IPhone" makes sense. I think the "phone" should stay as it tells customers, ultimately, what it is.

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poiman says:

This is happening because people don't really care about Apple products, they buy them because the have an Apple logo and because their friends also have one. They don't make an elaborate research about the products that they are buying, they buy it because they are trendy... Like the Wii 5 years ago, but then we know what happens... Trends...

jngmin00 says:

This is a nice article and I really enjoyed it. I can understand people who are not interested in Apple may call a device like that. However, I really agree with those stupid names of cameras, headphones, and etc. I want to get a headset now so I ask my friends what I should get. Then, I get answers like M50, AAIFAFASJIFJAPD 6843-F, or whatever. (this does not include beats product though) I really hope other companies make neats names like Apple does. :)

Orealy YouThink says:

I will go out on a limb here and say, most folks are RETARDED. Not only about what they own, but about technology as a whole.

I have done IT, and believe me the mere fact that they can get some things started is a miracle in it's self.

But if you think about the the name scheme, it is genius in every fashion for the moron masses out there. Now matter how they say it, it is known that of which they speak of.

iPhone, iTouch, iPad, iPod, it is all ubiquitous and it is, APPLE.

What the hell is a ZUNE!?

Felix_9300 says:

An iTouch is a keyboard. I hear iTouch all the time.

Ipheuria says:

Most of the people commenting seem to be making it a thing for people who are less tech knowledgable. I don't know that is totally the case because I would definitely consider myself tech knowledgable and I call my iPhone 5 "i5". Why? because I can, it's short and I just like to call it that. I'm not calling it that because I don't know what the name of the device so obviously that is the case for some other people. I think it's more a combination of all of the things people have commented. I just find it funny when people say they are annoyed by people calling it i4, i5, iTouch. I find it funny because I'm one of those people who says i5. It's just a name people why are you getting so annoyed? I could understand someone calling a Samsung GS4 an iPhone 5. This is just being ignorant since it's a different device from a different brand. Also the fact that an Android user might not have a love of iOS.