Apple, it’s time to move on from “OS X”

The Mac operating system holds the dubious honor of being the most frequently mispronounced tech brand. It looks like “Oh Ess Ex”, but the X is actually a roman numeral, so you’re supposed to say “Oh Ess Ten”.

The confusion goes back to the last millennium and the very first betas of the operating system. In the 18 years since, a whole generation of users have come to the Mac platform with no previous contact to Mac OS versions 1 through 9, and no idea that “X” means something else than what it looks like. Its pronounciation has become a kind of secret handshake: if you’re a “real” Mac user, you say “ten”.

That’s a terrible way to brand a consumer product. It turns a harmless product name into a mild form of hazing: a new Mac user is bound to feel stupid at some point when the mistake gets corrected. Humiliating newbies is not to anyone’s benefit.

Imagine if “iPhone” were supposed to be pronounced “one-phone”. Would any marketing department put up with such an idea? When all your customers are “saying it wrong”, the problem is not with the customers but with the brand.

“OS Ten” also faces a problem later this year, as two of Apple’s other operating systems are going to reach version ten:

OS X is the odd outlier in the above graphic. All of Apple’s other operating systems are branded with a lowercase prefix and a simple version number. Meanwhile OS X has a total of three numbers in the name: there’s the roman “X”, then the same number as the major version number, then the actual version number which is currently eleven.

There’s a simple solution: bring back the “Mac” and drop the confusing non-version-numbers.

Should it be “macOS”, to match tvOS and watchOS? That would make the platform grid more consistent. On the other hand the physical products like MacBook use a capital “M”, and that’s the spelling that users will be familiar with.

Hopefully we’ll see this change announced at WWDC this year. It’s time to fix one of Apple’s most persistent branding mishaps.