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Would you like a name or a number?

By Jean-Claude Elias - Sep 05,2019 - Last updated at Sep 05,2019

Does your Android smartphone run on Oreo or on pie? Which is yummier? Does your car model have a name or a number? Does it matter at all?

It is interesting to observe how the industry identifies a product, sometimes with a number and at other times with a name. This reflection was recently triggered by Google’s announcement just a few days ago that the upcoming version of its globally used Android mobile operating system (OS) will simply be known as Android 10.

This is a frank departure from the pattern the company has been following for many years now, ever since the very first Android OS was launched, and that has always consisted of labelling the product with a known confectionary name, be it a common noun or a trade mark. It started with cupcake in 2009, to be followed by donut, KitKat, and then in more recent years by marshmallow, nougat, Oreo, all the way to today’s pie, the current version of the system. True, officially each name was also associated with a number, but users would only remember the name, and most documentation, reviews and articles found on the web would only speak of the name.

Microsoft Windows versions have generally been known by numbers, like the current Windows 10 for example, with the exception of Windows Millennium (in 2000) and Vista (in 2006). Strangely, both exceptions were unpopular, short-lived versions! Any causal connection in that?

In the automotive world, on the other hand, we find that each manufacturer has long decided to go with either the naming or the numbering system, and has always been true to its initial choice. Peugeot and Mercedes, for instance, like numbers: Peugeot 508, Mercedes 200. Whereas, as other examples, Toyota, Honda and Kia prefer giving a name to their models: Camry, Accord and Cerato.

Do consumers care at all if their car or OS have a name or a number? Does the choice made by the manufacturer have any impact, be it technical or commercial, on the result, on sales?

It all seems like both systems have made manufacturers or makers equally successful. Obviously, the popularity and the global reputation and adoption of brands like Mercedes and Toyota, that go without saying, have little to do with the naming or the numbering systems. It is more a matter of style, and probably well-established habits – a sort of commercial acquired taste by the consumer.

It is also understood that naming instead of numbering a car model or a software product has zero effect on the technical aspect of the production and the final quality of the product.

This being said, there are differences. By giving a dessert or confectionary name to its Android OS version, Google was seen as a cool, modern company, one that is young and that does not do things like the other older player in the game, namely Microsoft in this very case. The naming system may well have served Google this way. Again, it is all about style.

There is also the “humanising” factor of manufactured things. Some consumers may find it pleasant to refer to their car using a name instead of a number: “I am driving my Camry” may sound better than “I am driving my 200”. At some point it can get very personal between a person and their car. Didn’t the great Shania Twain sing “I can’t believe you kiss your car good night” [That don’t impress me much]? But perhaps as many consumers would find the above totally ridiculous.

On the other hand, and given that software operating systems are frequently, not to say too frequently, updated and upgraded, referring to them using numbers is not only easier and faster, but allows you to keep better track of the history of updates and upgrades. Besides, few people would like to talk to their computer the way others would talk to their car. Then again, some might…

A smart, hybrid approach is sometimes adopted. It consists of giving a name and a number. Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones belong in this category: iPhone 5, 6, 7, or Galaxy S8, S9, S10, etc… for instance.

Both system work and both are valid. Let us see if Android 10 will be as popular as its sweetly-named predecessors. According to it was launched on September 3, on Google Pixel smartphones models.

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