The Seattle-based mobile platform company ZenZui recently changed its name to Zumobi, in preparation for a beta release in December. The name ZenZui was based on the word zen plus the acronym zui, which stands for ‘Zooming User Interface’. That’s the technology, developed at Microsoft Research, that Zumobi claims will take the pain out of surfing the web on your mobile phone.

While mingling at a Seattle tech event, The Name Inspector met a fellow from the company who gave a little demo, and it was pretty cool. The Zumobi interface divides the screen of your phone into four quadrants, and each of those contains four quadrants, so there are sixteen little boxes altogether. Each box contains a rectangular icon, called a tile, that represents a website, a feed, or some other little piece of web content. As you might guess from the term Zooming User Interface, you use Zumobi by zooming in and out on the quadrants and selecting tiles. If you know what you’re doing, like this guy did, you can do it really fast–zooming in the speedy sense.

The name ZenZui probably made the zen connection to evoke the sense of calm mastery that the interface provides. The -Zui ending came from the generic descriptive term for the interface, but made the whole name seem like an exotic foreign word. Maybe a little too exotic. In a BlogTalkRadio interview at Mobile Internet World, Senior Marketing Manager Beth Goza said that “zui, meaning ‘Zooming User Interface’, hasn’t really taken off for the average joe”. She also said that “zen is a pretty crowded space”. So the name change was spurred by a need for both clarity and distinctiveness.

Cindy Spodek Dickey, VP of Marketing for Zumobi, says that the idea for the name change came from several sources, including partners and end users. “Everyone agreed that ZenZui was a ‘cool’ name,” she wrote in an email, “but that a name with zen was an ambiguous product space (restaurants, spas, liquor, electronics to name a few) and didn’t fully communicate what our unique product was truly about…our zooming user interface and mobility focus. (Zoom + mobile = Zumobi)”. The new name was the result of brainstorming among management and employees.

Since the introduction of the .mobi internet domain, mobi has perhaps become generally recognized as a shortened form of mobile, so Zumobi might be thought of as essentially two words stuck together, with a spelling tweak. It’s a blend rather than a compound, because it’s pronounced with the stress pattern of a single word, and the m serves a double function as the last sound of zoom and the first sound of mobi.

The Name Inspector believes that Zumobi is a definite improvement over ZenZui, though without the double Zs it’s not as visually distinctive. Zumobi does indeed evoke the product’s special qualities more effectively. It’s more descriptive than suggestive, but that’s OK for a new, unusual product that’s so clearly characterized by a single salient feature. Zumobi is easy and fun to say. And it has that most important and elusive of qualities–the domain was available.

[tags]zumobi, the name zumobi, zenzui, the name zenzui, zooming user interface, zui, zooming, mobile, mobile platform, mobile phone[/tags]

5 Responses to “(Re)naming stories: ZenZui –> Zumobi”

  1. on 30 Nov 2007 at 3:38 pm Marcelo Calbucci

    Without understanding any of the technicalities naming something, I thought that ZenZui was way better than Zumobi. It’s easier and smoother to say and it was a clear “attack” to Apple’s “zen” iPhone, which is probably their biggest competitor.

    I saw a demo too, and I wanted to install it as soon as possible. Their biggest problem is the fact they are missing “killer-app” tiles.

  2. on 27 Mar 2009 at 9:10 pm Patrick

    Zenzui sounds like “mountain, water” in Chinese, and has a very very positive connotation. In feng shui (wind, water), facing water with you back against a mountain is the best possible location to be when looking for a house. I agree with Marcelo that Zumobi actually a downgrade.

  3. on 29 Mar 2009 at 1:55 pm The Name Inspector

    Patrick, I appreciate this information about ZenZui and understand why you find the name appealing, but the positive connotations won’t be apparent to anyone who doesn’t know Chinese. They do make a nice story to tell about the name, though.

  4. on 16 Jun 2010 at 11:20 am lisa

    Interesting story about ‘zumobi’ name and its evolution. Fun comments from different nationalities.

    I speak Chinese. So the ZenZui combo have specific Chinese meaning to me. Zen is Japanese spelling.
    禅.Zen (in Japanese) = 禅.Chan2 (in Mandarin).

    Zui can have several diverse interpretations:
    最.Zui4 (4th tone) = most, best ;
    罪.Zui4 (4th tone) = crime ;
    醉.Zui4 (4th tone) = drunk ;
    嘴.Zui3 (3rd tone) = mouth

    Hope this is helpful.

    We are thinking of our company names, that’s how I ran into this posting. Thanks for sharing this story.

  5. on 06 Dec 2011 at 7:02 am jala uzi

    I just can’t believe this ! How can anybody abandon a name like “zenzui” for zunobi.
    “Zenzui” sounds sexy, distinctive, intelligent, original, smart… and easier to remember..etc. whereas “zenobi” sounds like some rotten, expired food product..
    Fellas, throw away the zenobi and quickly go back
    to “Z-E-N-Z-U-I”.
    You will be smart to do this NOW!!

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