I’ve spent the week in Paris for LeWeb. One of the highlights of the trip has been riding in the Paris Metro, a highly visible symbol of what the French do best: combining world-class engineering with artistic beauty. Adverting is omnipresent in the Paris Metro (it’s no surprise that adtech is a growing part of the French economy), but it’s done with class, with beautiful posters featuring theater, ballet and ski vacations framed in ornate green or brown glazed-tiled frames. One of the most extensive Metro stations is Montparnasse, a section of Paris historically important for the arts. Some sections of the sprawling Montparnasse station are so long that moving sidewalks have been installed, letting commuters take a break from walking through the long corridors.
One early morning heading to LeWeb, I was taken by the enormous, colorful posters that had been installed promoting Apple’s new iPhone 5c. I had seen similar billboards before in San Francisco on the 101 highway, but never so many, and never in France. Gliding along beside the impressive display, I noticed something that once in a French context seemed odd. Does that say “non”? Why, yes it does.
Other commentators have asked why Apple would have come up with a case that is so poorly designed to feature the name of the phone, with the ‘i’, ‘P’. part of the ‘h’ and the ‘e’ of ‘iPhone’ cut off by the otherwise stylish stamped case. “This wouldn’t have happened if Steve Jobs was alive!” they say. That may be true, but this mistake takes on particular meaning in France where the remaining characters ‘non’ mean ‘no’.
So Apple has said ‘non’ to the French smartphone market. Whether it will affect sales is an open question, but from both a design and localization perspective, it was certainly a ‘faux pas’, and that’s no mistranslation.