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