11 Quirky Code Names for Apple Products

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Apple uses secret internal code names for many of its products before they're released. Over the years, they've come up with some really weird ones -- including one that led to multiple lawsuits.

1. "Carl Sagan"/"Butt-Head Astronomer" - Power Macintosh 7100

Apple hoped to make "billions and billions" from this midrange model of the Power Mac. Naturally, they called it "Carl Sagan"...until Sagan sued Apple to make them knock it off. (Other code names for related products included "Piltdown Man" and "Cold Fusion"; Sagan didn't like being associated, even secretly, with a hoax and pseudoscience.) Although Sagan lost the suit -- probably because the code name was never used in public marketing -- Apple changed the name. The new name: "BHA" (which was short for "Butt-Head Astronomer"). Sagan again sued, this time for libel, and lost.

2. "C1" - iMac

iMac (Bondi Blue)

The original iMac went by the extremely boring code name "C1" and Steve Jobs reportedly wanted to call the finished product "MacMan," as an homage to the Sony Walkman. Terrified by the prospect of a product named "MacMan," a group of advertising creatives thought up a series of alternatives, eventually developing "iMac" and convincing Jobs to use it. Ken Segall tells the story of how the iMac was almost a MacMan. (Shudder.)

3. "I Tripoli" and "Cube-E" - System 7.1

Apple's "System 7" operating system was a big deal, with the original version bearing the code name "Big Bang" as it heralded the addition of key features like QuickTime, crappy cooperative multitasking, and virtual memory. When the System 7.1 update rolled around, Apple built it to comply with IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standards, hence the code names -- "IEEE" is generally pronounced "I triple-E."

4. "Kanga" - PowerBook G3

Prior to the much-beloved "Wallstreet" and "Pismo" PowerBook G3 models was an odd duck code named "Kanga," possibly for the Winnie-the-Pooh character. Kanga was billed as the fastest notebook in the world, and it was effectively a G3 CPU crammed into a pre-existing PowerBook 3400 body. Because fully redesigned PowerBook G3 models hit the market just 5 months after Kanga debuted, Wikipedia reports: "Kanga has the dubious distinction of being Apple's fastest depreciating PowerBook."

5. "Peter Pan" - Macintosh TV

Macintosh TV

The Macintosh TV was an anomaly in the Mac lineup -- it was effectively a Performa in a black chassis, with a 14-inch CRT screen that could be switched between "computer mode" and "TV mode" (it had a cable TV tuner, enabling the TV features). Its TV integration functions were minimal, allowing only screenshots, plus you couldn't play TV in a window while doing other work -- it was fullscreen TV or fullscreen computer, which might have held some appeal for dorm rooms, except that the machine cost over $2,000 and wasn't particularly fast. It did come with a Sony-compatible remote control, though. As to why it was called Peter Pan, I can't find any concrete proof, but I can imagine that boys who don't want to grow up would love to watch TV on their computers rather than typing up boring school papers.

6. "Piltdown Man" - Power Macintosh 6100

The Power Macintosh 6100 was Apple's first computer using the PowerPC CPU architecture. It was a big deal, partly because it changed the startup sound from the then-standard chime to a guitar chord. It was code named "Piltdown Man" after a fossil hominid hoax, a supposed "missing link" between apes and humans -- the 6100 was seen as the link between the original Macintosh models and the new PowerPC models. Unlike the hoax "Piltdown Man," the Power Macintosh 6100 really was a bridge to the new world, and there was even a 6100 model with DOS/Windows 3.1 compatibility.

7. "Q" - Newton MessagePad 2000

Newton MessePad 2000

The Newton MessagePad 2000 was the second-to-last Newton ever made: a 2100 model with minor improvements came out shortly after, then all Newtons were discontinued as part of Steve Jobs's Apple product line restructuring. Online accounts of the "Q" code name vary; some suggest that it refers to the Star Trek: The Next Generation character, others the James Bond character who made awesome gadgets, and others simply the alphabet letter. It may also be related to the competing Samsung Q1 product, though my money's on Bond.

8. "Spartacus," "Pomona," and "Smoke and Mirrors" - Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

When Apple Computer Inc. turned twenty, it released an insanely awesome (and radically expensive) twentieth anniversary computer. A beautifully designed system, the TAM was a sort of hybrid laptop/desktop akin to today's flat-screen iMacs (albeit much smaller and roughly seven times the price). It featured an LCD screen, TV integration, a custom Bose speaker system (including subwoofer), a leather wrist rest on the keyboard, and a trackpad rather than the typical mouse. Only 12,000 were made, and they initially retailed for $7,499 -- until the final models were cleared out at the bargain price of $1,995 after Steve Jobs returned to Apple.

9. "Spock" - Macintosh IIx

The Macintosh IIx was the first Mac to ship with a "SuperDrive," which at the time meant a 1.44MB floppy drive (the term was later redefined to mean a CD/DVD drive capable of burning discs). It's only logical that Apple product managers would name it after their favorite Vulcan.

10. "Spruce Goose" - PowerBook 540

PowerBook 540

The PowerBook 540 was a nice laptop (I owned one and loved it), but it was really heavy -- over 7 pounds, the thing felt like a brick when compared to the ultra-light (for the time) PowerBook Duo 280, which weighed a little over 4 pounds. Hence, while the laptop was big, powerful, and ambitious, it was a lot like Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose, which flew only once. (For the record, the Spruce Goose was made primarily of birch.)

The PowerBook 540 series was also code named "SR-71," for the SR-71 Blackbird, a decidedly sleeker stealth aircraft that shared some design elements (dark curves) with the laptop.

11. "Mackelangelo" - MacDraw

MacDraw was a vector (line-based) drawing program released alongside the original Macintosh. It was handy for making flowcharts and diagrams, but wasn't as popular as the iconic MacPaint, which was famously used by Andy Warhol at Sean Lennon's ninth birthday party (Warhol was quite excited to draw a circle using the mouse). MacDraw was handy, but it didn't exactly turn Mac users into Mackelangelos.

More Code Names

Check out Wikipedia's list of Apple code names as well as the Apple Code Names collection at The Apple Museum.

(All images courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.)

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June 11, 2012 - 10:11am
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