A long time ago, in an operating system still lurking about today, Microsoft started a convention of naming things “My”. “My Computer”, “My Documents and Settings”, “My Music”, etc.
I can’t say for certain whether Microsoft got in first with “My*” or whether Apple got in first with “i*”; the iMac was released originally in 1998, but I can’t remember which operating system Microsoft pioneered the “My*” naming convention in.
Even if Microsoft did get there first, it doesn’t mean that they actually got it right.
Think about the difference between the two strategies: Microsoft name a bunch of locations and components within the operating system with a “My” prefix. Most little children go through a “My” phase – insisting they own everything. The first thought I had when I saw the “My Computer” designation was “My goodness, are we all 2 year olds again?” For years, this stuck with me as my primary criticism of the “My” designation in Microsoft operating systems.
It occurred to me today though (sometimes I can be a bit of a lump) that there’s a much better differentiation between the naming convention that Microsoft took, and the naming convention that Apple took. The linguistic differences between the two naming conventions are actually far more important.
“My” is a possessive adjective; it implies ownership – a passive declaration of state. Nothing more. “My Documents and Settings” just means “These are the documents and settings I own”. They don’t guarantee any level of excitement in the same way as “My toilet paper” doesn’t guarantee a level of excitement.
The “i” in the various “i*” products from Apple though use the first person singular version of the letter; i.e., “I am Preston” or “I am typing”. Used in front of all these different product names, “iMac”, “iPad”, “iPhone”, “iPod”, etc., it also effectively converts the second part of the name into a verb. A “doing word“, to use the lay-term.
If you think it’s crazy that the i* terminology has worked so well for Apple when at some level it looks a bit silly, consider this: the very product names imply activity – that you can use them to do something. Activity implies opportunity – opportunity for fun, opportunity for movement, opportunity for … well, you get the picture.
I’m not suggesting that the i* and My* approaches used by Apple and Microsoft respectively equate to comparable products; they don’t. But where they can be compared is the recognition that building a bond, a relationship between a person and a product is effectively fundamental marketing 101 for any non-essential item – or anything where you’re not aiming to be the cheapest.
In this regard, what I’m saying is: Apple understood this better than Microsoft. A strategy of product naming that makes every product name a verb is a profoundly simple way of telling everyone who looks at the product, “yes, you can use this to do something”.