Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Can’t You Pick One Name?

In January of 1997 a winter storm blew into Texas, covering the state from Dalhart to Houston with ice. The 1394 Trade Association was having a quarterly meeting at Compaq in Houston, but tonight, no one was leaving the hotel to go anywhere.
  Compaq was hosting a reception at the hotel for their ice bound guests and Ken was working the room.

Ken was a member of the 1394TA Board of Directors but his day job was with Sony.  Ken had a reputation for deal making and spent a lot of time with his competitors convincing them to join forces with Sony to make 1394 a success.  A great deal of the adoption of 1394 by Japanese companies was attributable to Ken.  Ken was a force to be reckoned with in the tight 1394 community.  Tonight, he was on a mission.

For the past two years, Ken had been pushing the 1394TA to stop using the Apple name for 1394, “FireWire.”   Unfortunately, the only other name available was “IEEE 1394” and that name was not gaining traction with anyone.    Ken had been preparing people for months to expect a new name from Sony.  Tonight was the night to unveil it and Ken wanted to canvass the room to make sure no one resisted.

The new name Ken was promoting was “i.LINK.” “The ‘I’ stands  for ‘intelligent’ or for a personal connector using ‘I’ to signify myself…or it sounds like ‘eye’ which you use to take in information….”  Ken’s sale was falling on deaf ears and it was much more than a language barrier.  The new Sony name was just plain dull.  The room was crestfallen. A great name like “FireWire” was going into decline and being replaced by an insipid name like “i.LINK.”  The conventional wisdom in 1997 was that Apple was on the ropes and that virtually every home in American had a Sony product.  The smart money was on Sony prevailing.

So what was wrong with “FireWire?”  Ken indicated that Sony did not like it.  However, later conversations with other Sony notables indicated that Sony may or may not have disliked “FireWire”.  However, one Sony VP in Ken’s chain of command had  expressed distain for “FireWire” indicating that it sounded like a safety device.  With typical Japanese business caution, it was suggested that the name would give customers the impression that the new Sony HDTV’s were dangerous and had to be connected to a “FireWire” to keep them from catching the house on fire. Ken knew what he had to do.  In his own words “I am painted with Sony paint using a Sony brush.”  i.LINK had arrived and it was not going way.

Around the same time, on the Left Coast, a deal was being made  that would push "FireWire" ahead  of "i.LINK" permanently.  In 1997, Steve Jobs would return to Apple Computer and in 1998, the iMac would be launched with marketing prowess that would leave the industry in awe. "FireWire" would be back and would dominate. 

YouTube Video on FireWire Names

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