Everyone knows the importance of spelling a trademarked term correctly, but what happens when a trademarked word needs to be made plural? Electronics companies looking to ensure their social media posts and press releases are error-free should pay attention to this plural controversy, described by Grammar Girl!
How to Make Product Names Plural
Last week, Apple executive Philip Schiller objected to people using regular plural rules to make Apple product names plural. It must have been a slow news day because Schiller’s tweets led to multiple high-profile news stories, none of which actually got to the real reason Schiller made his comments, which those of you with an extremely good memory will remember that I talked about nearly three years ago.
First, here’s what happened.
Two Silicon Valley guys were talking on Twitter about whether they should say they have two iPad Pros or two iPads Pro. Then Schiller jumped in to say, “One need never pluralize Apple product names. Ex: Mr. Evans used two iPad Pro devices.”
But none of the articles seemed to realize that Apple has had this policy about making product names plural for years, it’s been on the Apple website, and it’s all about trademarks.
Product Names Are Usually Trademarks
Product names are usually trademarked, and companies don’t like you to use trademarked words generically. Making names plural counts as using them generically. The Apple page Guidelines for Using Trademarks and Copyrights gives this example:
Rules for Proper Use of Apple Trademarks
1. Trademarks are adjectives used to modify nouns; the noun is the generic name of a product or service.
2. As adjectives, trademarks may not be used in the plural or possessive form.
Correct: I bought two Macintosh computers.
Not Correct: I bought two Macintoshes.
In other words, Apple has always said it wants you to say things like “I have two iPad Pro devices.”
But we all know that’s not realistic in casual writing and speech. In fact, commenters on the Mac Rumors article helpfully provided examples of Apple executives breaking the rule in their tweets and the company breaking the rule in its press releases.
How to Make Product Names That End in Numbers Plural
In the past, listeners have asked about how to make Apple product names that end with numbers plural. For example, how would you make iPhone 6 plural?
I had addressed plurals of product names before (the recognized plural of “BlackBerry” is “BlackBerrys,” even though RIM wants you to call them “two BlackBerry smartphones”), but I’d never faced a question about a product name that ends with a version number.
It’s not terribly uncommon for a product name to end in a number--we have the Boeing 737, Heinz 57 (officially Heinz 57 Sauce), the Commodore 64, Pepsi One, and so on—but it does make you stop and think when you have to make them plural.
Common Use: iPhone 6s?
If you ignore the trademark issue, there are still varying answers to the question.
The Associated Press, in its more recent Q&A answer that comes close to addressing this question, hews to the company line, suggesting its writers write about iPhone 6s phones and iPhone 6 models.
On the other hand, I don’t think adding a number to the name should make a difference in the way you’d handle it. The number is part of the official name, so if in common, non-trademark hewing language, we’d write that we have two Blackberrys, two iPads, and two 727s, then we should be able to write that we have two iPhone 6s.
What Is the Plural of iPhone 6S?
However, I wasn’t able to find many news articles that made the iPhone 6 plural in this way, and I suspect it’s because Apple tends to rotate through product names that have a number followed by an S, so we have the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6S. The S in the product names is usually capitalized, so it doesn’t look exactly like the plural iPhone 6s with a lowercase S; but it could still be very confusing to readers, and I think that’s why writers seem to be avoiding it. You could say they’re all simply adhering to AP style, but I easily found many news stories that broke the rule when writing about the iPhone 6S and referred to iPhone 6Ses.
So that was your meaty middle about how to make Apple product names plural. If you’re a longtime listener, you already knew the kerfuffle was about trademarks, but it’s still interesting to think about the logic behind how we make product names that end in numbers plural and especially how you might want to use a different spelling if the logical way, like iPhone 6s, might be confusing to readers. The most important rule is always to avoid confusing readers.