It’s perhaps one of the most important letters in the world — but nobody’s entirely sure what it means.
The ‘i’ at the start of iPhone is one of its defining features. And it mostly refers to “internet”, though not entirely, and the story of how it got there is slightly more complicated.
The naming convention was first introduced with the iMac. Launched in 1998, the computer marked the beginning of the modern Apple.
Introducing that computer, Steve Jobs said that the computer was targeted at the “number one use that the consumers say they want to use the computer for”: the internet. It was launched just as the internet was catching on and was made central in the computer’s advertising.
“Even though this is a full-blooded Macintosh, we are targeting this for the number one use that consumers tell us they want a computer for, which is to get on the internet — simply, and fast,” he said at the time. “And that is what this product is targeted for.”
But that was far from the only meaning of the “i”, Mr Jobs said. During the launch, he showed a slide with a number of different headings: Internet, individual, instruct, inform, inspire.
“‘i’ also means some other things to us,” he said. “We are a personal computer company, and although this product is born to network, it also is a beautiful stand-alone product. We are targeting it also for education. They want to buy these. And it is perfect for most of the things they do in instruction.”
The company would go on to brand almost all of its products with the little letter. Software such as iTools and hardware including the iPod all talk on the name. (It still isn’t entirely clear where the rest of the iPod name originated from.)
It would eventually find its place in the name of the iPhone, a product that had a similar effect for Apple as the iMac.
It would prove a slightly controversial name, leading to legal proceedings with Cisco, since it had a product with the same name.
The prefix has perhaps lost some of its shine in recent years. Many of Apple’s recent products — including the Apple TV and the Apple Watch — have picked up a new naming convention, dropping the ‘i’ entirely and opting instead for their generic name on its own, sometimes accompanied by Apple’s half-eaten logo.