Uppercase S, Uppercase C, Lowercase I

Blah blah really long iPhone reviews blah blah. Who cares, ’cause I’m not upgrading this year. But in a footnote to his review of the new iPhones, John Gruber does us all a service:

Let’s get this capitalization thing out of the way, too. Yes, I’m using 5C and 5S, with uppercase letters, and Apple is using 5c and 5s. Why? These names are initialisms, words where you pronounce them by spelling out the letters of their names. In an initialism, according to all standard style guides, all letters are capitalized. That’s it. If Apple chooses, for marketing reasons, to capitalize these letters differently, that’s on them. It’s a style choice, not a spelling choice.

Consider the iPhone 4S. For two years Apple has styled it with an uppercase S. As of last Tuesday, upon the release of the 5S and 5C, they now style it with a lowercase s: iPhone 4s. It’s the same device. The box is even the same. Apple simply now styles it differently in their own material.

As for why Apple made this change, here’s my theory: “5S”, at a glance, is hard to distinguish from “55” or “SS” in many fonts. (Or “S5” for that matter, which might come into play with Samsung’s next-generation Galaxy phones.) Thus, my guess is Apple decided to lowercase the s to clarify the difference between the glyphs. The 5C and 4S simply came along for the ride for consistency’s sake.

(It’s for this same reason that I have always styled “Touch” and “Mini” with uppercase letters, as do stylistically conservative publications such as The New York Times and The New Yorker. Apple gets to prescribe how to spell its product names; it does not get to prescribe how to style them. (Don’t get me started on my justification for lowercasing the i prefix in iPhone, iPad, iMac, and etc. Well, OK, if you insist. First, styling those with an uppercase I looks like hell. Second, I consider Apple’s i a prefix that deserves an exception from the normal rules of capitalization for proper names, like Mc or Mac in patronymic Scottish and Irish surnames. The point is, something still gets capitalized in all these product names. If Apple had, say, chosen to style it iphone 5c this year, I’d still capitalize the P.))

I’m sure all the new bits in the 5S are cool, but this the important stuff. Follow his lead, tech press!

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