How the iPod Got Its Name

The story behind the name "iPod"

The word "iPod" has become so common and so much a part of the culture that we hardly blink an eye anymore when we hear it. But the success of Apple's groundbreaking line of portable media players has made us forget that "iPod" is a pretty weird word, and that the word didn't exist before the device itself.

When giving new products invented names, companies often base the name on a meaning, an acronym, or feeling or image the name should evoke. Is that the case here? Does "iPod" stand for anything?

The short answer? No. The word iPod doesn't stand for anything.

To be more precise, "iPod" is not an acronym, but the name was inspired by a few things. To understand the inspiration for and meaning of the name "iPod", we need to trace the two elements of the name: the "I" and the "pod."

the original ipod
The Device That Started It All: The Original iPod. image credit: Apple Inc.

Apple's History With "i"

Apple has been starting product names with the prefix 'i' since the late 1990s. The first 'i' device that Apple released was the original iMac in 1998. That was followed by the iBook laptop and the iMovie and iTunes programs. Apple has largely dropped the 'i' prefix from its products: the MacBook replaced the iBook, and Photos replaced iPhoto. The prefix lives on in the iPhone, iMac, and iPad, among others, of course.

There are different theories as to where that original "i" in iMac came from. Some say that the "I" stands for the first initial of the last name of Apple's Former Chief Design Officer, Jonathan Ive. The truth, though, is that the "i" stood for "Internet," according to Ken Segall. Segall should know: he led the team that came up with the name.

When the first iMac was introduced, the Internet was still a relatively new thing and not used by nearly as many people as it is today. How you got on the Internet was mysterious to some people. As a result, many products tried to emphasize that they could both help you get on the Internet and that they'd make it easy. All of that was wrapped up in the name and the marketing for the original iMac. 

After the iMac's success, the "i" prefix began popping up on other consumer-focused products from Apple. By the time of the iPod's debut in 2001, the company had released the iMac, iTunes, iMovie, and the iBook. Clearly, "i" was embedded in Apple's branding.

"Pod" Comes From Science Fiction 

At the time of the iPod's introduction, Apple thought of its consumer-grade products as part of a "digital hub." Freelance copywriter Vinnie Chieco had been hired to work on naming the device and was trying out associations with the word "hub," according to a number of articles on the topic.

Chieco thought about spaceships as hubs. That led him to think about the smaller space shuttles in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which looked a bit like the original iPod. Once 2001 was in mind, that led to one of the movie's most famous quotes: "Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

With the word "pod" from the quote and Apple's "i" branding, the "iPod" name was born.

It's Not "Internet Portable Open Database"

If you look around the Internet for the meaning of the iPod's name, one of the most common answers is that it's an acronym that stands for "Internet portable open database." The people who believe this say that that's the device's name because that's the operating system it runs.

Neither of these things is true. The original version of the iPod operating system didn't really have a public name. It's since been called just "the iPod operating system." 

Secondly, the original iPod had no Internet-related features at all. It was an MP3 player that got content by connecting to your computer, not the Internet. While the "i" prefix in Apple products started out meaning "Internet," by the time the iPod debuted, the "i" was just part of Apple's branding. It didn't necessarily stand for anything.

Lastly, the term "portable open database" doesn't make much sense when it comes to an MP3 player (or in any other context, really). Databases are software. By definition, software is pretty portable. The iPod wasn't terribly "open" either and it's pretty unclear what an "open" database—as opposed to a closed one—would be.

Calling something a "portable open database" confuses the portability of the device with the portability of software. As a phrase, it's confusing and imprecise—two things Apple almost never is.

The Bottom Line

There you have it. The next time the question of whether iPod is an acronym, or what iPod's name means, comes up in conversation, you'll have the answer. You can be a hit at parties or ready to help your team win its next trivia night.

Think you know who invented the iPod? We bet you don't! Find out in Who Really Invented the iPod?

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