Papa Bear? Sholes? Tech Code Names Explained

Once upon a time, there was a Papa Bear, a Mama Bear and an eensy-weensy Baby Bear.

Think you know the end to this story?

Probably not -- because those three "bears" don't refer to the stuff of fairy tales, but product rollouts in the secretive, ultra-competitive world of consumer electronics.

Before a cell phone, laptop or video game console makes its way to consumers with its trademarked, market-tested (and sometimes very expensive) name, industry watchers say it's often given a temporary internal alias that can run the gamut from the sweet to the silly and everything in between.

Daughters' names, hometowns, favorite kinds of beer, famous people, storybook characters, you name it. Engineers, product managers and others have borrowed from the familiar and the fantastical to assign code names to top-secret products.

Research in Motion, which makes the BlackBerry, did not immediately respond to requests to comment for this story. But the blogger behind the popular tech blog Boy Genius Report, who asked to be referred to as "BG," said that before the company launched its 8300 series BlackBerry Curve in 2007 it referred to its new smart phones as the three bears.

Tech Blogger: Code Names Can Be Anything

"BG" said his sources said the GPS-enabled 8310 was known as Papa Bear and the WiFi-integrated 8320 was called Mama Bear. And the most basic phone in the series, which was expected to lack both Wi-Fi and GPS support, was referred to as Baby Bear.

"[Code names] could be anything," he said, adding that from his observation, depending on the company and the task at hand, project managers to people higher-up have the latitude to choose the internal codes.

When Motorola was planning the release of phones to run on Microsoft Windows Mobile software, "BG" said they chose the names of great conquerors, such as Napoleon and Alexander.

They wanted to make a big splash, he said, and chose names to reflect that ambition. Too bad some might say that it was irony, not victory, they projected when the phones never launched.

Some Code Names Remain a Mystery

But it's not always so easy to parse meaning out of the names.

Before Motorola's much-hyped Droid smart phone hit the market this past fall, many tech blogs described it as the Sholes. But though the code name was widely reported, the origin of it remains an enigma.

Motorola declined to comment for this story but, citing Wikipedia, the blog AndroidGuys ventured a guess. A few months before the Droid's November 2009 launch, the blog published that Christopher Latham Sholes was a 19th century American inventor credited with inventing the first practical typewriter and the QWERY keyboard still used today.

"The Sholes is a classy looking handset with a nice sized keyboard," the blog said. "So it certainly seems feasible that this would be the reason for the name."

Nicholas Lurie, a marketing professor at the Georgia Tech College of Management, said that aside from helping to maintain secrecy, code names can help further a variety of corporate agendas.

"Generally, you want to think about the different constituencies that are out there," he said. Sometimes names are chosen to excite the development, marketing and sales people behind the product. Other times, they're meant to intimidate or throw off a competitor.

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