How Did the iPod Get Its Name?

what does iPod stand for?
iPod images copyright Apple Inc.

The word "iPod" has become so common, and the product so ubiquitous, that we hardly blink an eye at it anymore. But the success of Apple's line of portable media players has made us forget that "iPod" is a pretty weird word, and that it didn't don't exist before the iPod itself did.

When giving new products invented names, companies often base the name on a meaning or acronym or want the name to evoke a feeling or image.

Is that the case here? Does "iPod" stand for anything?

Short answer? Nope.

The word iPod doesn't stand for anything, at least in the sense that it's not an acronym, but the name was inspired by a few things. To understand the inspiration for, and meaning of, the name, we need to trace the two elements the name derives from: the "i" and the "pod."

Apple's History with "i"

Starting product names with the prefix "i" has been a common naming element for Apple since the late 1990s. The first "i' device that Apple released was the original iMac in 1998. Other examples of this include the iBook laptop and the iMovie and iTunes programs. While some of those products live on, Apple has largely dropped the "i" prefix from its products—the MacBook replaced the iBook, and Photos replaced iPhoto—though it lives on in the iPhone, iMac, and iPad, among others.

As to where that original "i" in iMac came from, there are different theories.

Some say that the "i" stands for the first initial of the last name of Apple's Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive. The truth, though, is that the "i" stood for "Internet," according to Ken Segall, who 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.

The way you got on the Internet was somewhat mysterious to some people, so may products tried to stress that not only could they help you get on the Internet, they would make it easy. All that was wrapped up in the name and the marketing for the original line of iMacs. 

After the iMac was a hit, the "i" prefix son began popping up on other consumer-focused products from Apple. By 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 was thinking 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, but best summed up in this Wired article

Chieco thought of space ships as hubs, which then led him to think about the smaller space shuttles in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which looked something like the 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" in 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 an explanation of the iPod's name, one of the most common answers you'll find is "Internet portable open database." The people who believe this say 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 and it's since been called the iPod operating system. 

Secondly, the original iPod had no Internet-related features at all. It was an MP3 player that got its 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 came along, the "i" was just part of Apple's branding and didn't necessarily stand for anything.

Lastly, the term "portable open database" doesn't make much sense when it comes to an MP3 player. Databases are software which, by definition, are fairly portable. I think most would argue that the iPod wasn't terribly "open" either.

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

And there you have it. The next time the question of whether iPod is an acronym 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.