Phil Schiller gives fans a grammar lesson: never pluralize Apple product names

Phil Schiller iPhone 6 event

You use your iPhone every day, but how many iPhones do you actually own? That simple question would never pass a grammar check by Apple’s boss of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller.

Responding to a debate on pluralizing the iPad Pro name, which ensued between Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans and analyst Michael Gartenberg, Schiller tweeted that “One need never pluralize Apple product names”. But what then does he propose as the correct way of saying that Evans used two iPad Pros?

“I have three Macintosh”

“Mr. Evans used two iPad Pro devices” is how you’d put it, said Schiller.

So, what about the iPhone? Saying “I have three iPhones” is a big no-no in Schiller’s grammar book. Instead, you would say “I have three iPhone devices” or ”I have three iPhone smartphones,” which is grammatically correct, but “I have three iPhones” still sounds better, wouldn’t you agree?

Schiller’s tweetstorm also lectures us on the official way of saying about owning three Macs at home. “It would be proper to say ‘I have 3 Macintosh,’” said Schiller in another tweet. “Or, ‘I have 3 Macintosh computers.’”

He went on arguing that in English, some nouns can be both plural and singular, citing the words “deer” and “clothes” as examples. He’s correct about that—and it surely makes sense from a branding standpoint to have your product names used as adjectives (i.e. iPod touch device, Macintosh computer, etc.)—but good luck in getting people to say “I own three Macintosh”.

Inconsistencies, inconsistencies

BusinessInsider was quick to point out that Apple itself sometimes pluralizes its own product names. This official press release, for instance, refers to iPhones in the plural form. Laugh as much as you will, but this wouldn’t be the first time Apple broke its own branding rules.

Across the Apple website, in advertising and other marketing collaterals, Apple product names are typically referred to without the definite article, so “the iPhone” becomes just ”iPhone”. This is of course grammatically incorrect, but who cares—this is Apple, right, they make their own rules?

I wouldn’t be making too much fuss out of this whole brouhaha were it not for the fact that other Apple product names on the official website sometimes include the definite article and sometimes don’t, like in the case of  (the) iPad.

Marketing talk

I can understand Schiller’s position, especially knowing where he’s coming from: he handles Apple’s marketing operations around the world! In advertising, you want to refer to product names in singular, not plural. Aside from the fact that most product names are singularized, pluralizing them complicates things from a localization standpoint.

I’m a native Croatian speaker and our complex grammar recognizes a total of seven different noun forms, each with its own prefixes, suffixes and rules. When we use the word “iPhone” in a sentence, it can take up any of these forms, depending not just on the context but on the singular, plural or the pronoun used.

Because of this, all brand ads localized in Croatian refer to product names in the singular form. But marketing talk is one thing, and the realities of how English-native speakers and common folk call products is something entirely different.

I don’t know if Schiller has a degree in the English language, but he’s definitely right from a grammar point of view, even when what he’s proposing doesn’t sound right. That’s why I’ll continue saying that I own two iPhones and three Macs, Mr. Schiller be damned.

Source: Twitter via MacRumors