Why You Won’t Be Wearing An iWatch

Even Tim Cook seemed to want an iWatch–here’s why that didn’t happen.

Why You Won’t Be Wearing An iWatch
the Apple Watch [Photo: Alice Truong for Fast Company]

“The iWatch” rolls off the tongue. It’s what you, me, and even Apple CEO Tim Cook want to call Apple’s new smartwatch. Yet, we got the decidedly blah “Apple Watch.”


What happened to the “i”?

A looming trademark dispute is the most obvious explanation for Apple’s deviation from iNames. Swatch was ready to go to court with Apple over the iWatch name, which sounded too similar to iSwatch, as reported earlier this year. Apple has before avoided legal battles when naming products. Rumormongers suggest that Apple went with “Apple TV” instead of “iTV” because of facing threats from British TV broadcaster ITV.


However, as The New York Times points out, Apple has opted to tangle with big-time brands over names in the past. Cisco and Apple battled over the iPhone brand. The two settled the suit within months and the Apple iPhone lives on.

The Swatch scuffle may have been the perfect excuse to get away from iBranding. “Even if it was precipitated by trademark wrangling, it may very well be a canny move to leave the ‘i-‘ prefix in the past,” linguist and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer told Fast Company. The whole iGimmick might define Apple, but Zimmer called it a “double edged sword.” Note that Apple also went with Apple Pay and not iPay. “You run the risk of ‘iWatch’ being interpreted as ‘I Watch’ and ‘iPay’ as ‘I Pay.'” Plus, at this point, iThings, which are not exclusive to Apple, are old-hat.

Apple’s new store menu with the awkward addition of Watch

An Apple product without the i-name not only suggests a new era, but one without Steve Jobs. Apple Watch says: It’s Tim Cook’s Apple now. “The watch is the first truly new product (and first entry into the wearables category) introduced under Tim Cook’s watch (heh),” branding expert Nancy Friedman said. “Cook may have wanted the name to demonstrate a break from the Jobsian past.”

Zimmer also brought up that point. “Tim Cook clearly wants to put his own stamp on things, and retiring the prefix could be a good way for him to distinguish himself from the Jobsian era.”


Clinging to the iWatch name might be our way of holding onto Apple’s glory days under Jobs.

If things go well for the Apple Watch the i- prefix might soon start to sound dated. The i primarily stood for Internet, Jobs explained when first introducing the first i-Product, the iMac. Of course, it also acted as a stand-in for other “i” words and as a symbol for individuality. But do we really need to emphasize that our gadgets are connected to the Internet anymore? Just as everything is smart, every Apple gadget is an i-thing.

“Much as the ‘e-‘ prefix has been largely abandoned (outside of established terms like ’email’ and ‘ecommerce’), the ‘i-‘ prefix may soon sound rather quaint, a reminder of an earlier technological age,” said Zimmer.

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.