What’s in a name? Windows Phone 7, XBox Compass, or Other?

The ever-entertaining Chris Pirillo has a proposal for Microsoft: change the name “Windows Phone 7” to “XBox Compass”. Can’t say the new name rolls off the tongue (actually hard to say three times fast), but I certainly appreciate the sentiment.

If you’ve followed my posts about Windows Phone 7 these past months, you know I too am not a fan of the name. Dropping the extraneous “series” from the initial name did much to placate me, but it’s still weak. Chris supports his post with seven enjoyable points. Unfortunately, it ain’t gonna happen.

Not only is Microsoft bound and chained to the Windows brand, but Steve Ballmer has made it fairly clear that he wants to brand everything as a Windows 7 device, regardless of whether it runs true Windows 7. Whether it’s a phone that runs Windows Phone 7, a tablet running Windows Embedded Compact 7, or a PC running Windows 7, the impression I repeatedly get from Ballmer’s public comments is that these are all Windows 7 devices (from a marketing perspective).

Regardless of the technical problems with that branding, I do appreciate the marketing aspect of this approach, but it’s really boring, and as Chris reminds us, Windows isn’t the only brand at Microsoft’s disposal. Worse yet, Microsoft is passing up a prime opportunity to start a new iconic brand.

An iconic brand is one that is easily recognized by the masses, such as Windows. You tell someone you use a Windows PC, they can automatically picture that in their mind without a lengthy explanation. Microsoft, I think, is doing themselves a disservice by trying to shoehorn their phone OS into that brand. Tell someone you use a Windows Phone, they’re likely to envision the desktop OS on a phone and you’ll be pressed not just to explain but also to fight their flawed preconception.

In addition, the brands Windows Phone 7 will compete against are iconic in nature. “BlackBerry”, “iPhone”, and “Droid” are singular names that are tied to their respective device lines. The different models in those lines are differentiated by suffixes, such as BlackBerry Torch, iPhone 4, and Droid X. Arguably, Microsoft can let someone else deal with device branding, as seen with Verizon’s Droid branding for their Android phones. But at this stage in the game, I don’t think Microsoft has time to leave that up to someone else.

I previously argued Microsoft should have stuck with the “Photon” codename, as in “Windows Photon”. This would allow Microsoft to keep the Windows brand, while also giving handset makers a sub-brand to use in product names, like Photon Blue or Photon Z. I’m not saying Photon is necessarily the best name here, but the point is it’s possible to maintain the Windows brand and make a fresh start for their new phone OS. “XBox Compass” works to that effect as well (though not without confusion as some people will relate “compass” to the actual device by that name). Furthermore, linking it to the XBox brand works since it’s already linked to XBox Live. Regardless of the specifics, I’m with Chris on changing that name.