04
Apr 13

iPhone naming: when simple gets complicated

When Apple introduced the iPad 3 as “the new iPad” — dropping its number altogether — it gave Apple watchers something new to ponder.

Would the coming iPhone 5 simply be “the new iPhone”? Would Apple’s naming convention finally be applied equally across all product lines?

The answer, we soon discovered, was “no.” The new iPhone stubbornly held onto its number — even though iPod, iPad, iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro were living in a world where numbers had become excess baggage.

There was good reason, of course.

iPhone is sold differently. Since two previous models are still available when a new model is launched, the number is needed to distinguish one from the other. Consider it a necessary evil.

But once you accept that iPhone models can’t live without a model identifier, the question becomes: what should that identifier be?

The press has already dubbed this year’s model “iPhone 5S.” Most experts see a narrative in which Apple only produces a major upgrade every other year, and in between we get the “S” model. This is the model that delivers only incremental improvements.

Whether that’s Apple’s intended message is unknown. But personally, I wish Apple never created a “4S.”

First of all, it’s an awkward moniker whether you speak it or read it. The Apple designers tried their best with the product graphics, but there is an inescapable reality: 4S will never be as simple as 4.

More important, tacking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our “off-year” product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise. But look what happened with iPhone 5.

This model brought major changes: bigger screen, better camera, greater speed, all on a thinner and lighter body. Yet its improvements were still dismissed by many as “incremental.” In fact, the perceived lack of innovation in iPhone 5 (deserved or not) is what prompted some to start writing about Samsung as “the new innovation leader.”

So what exactly is the point of going with numbers vs. “S” designations?

The simplest path is to give each new iPhone a new number and let the improvements speak for themselves. If anyone wants to say that the 7 isn’t as big a leap as the 6, that’s their business. Attempting to calibrate “degree of innovation” in the product name seems like a needless (and self-diminishing) exercise.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re looking for a new car, you’re looking for a 2013 model — not a 2012S. What’s important is that you get the latest and greatest.

My (meaningless) vote is that the next iPhone should be christened iPhone 6, not iPhone 5S. If it’s worthy of being a new model, it’s worthy of having its own number.

Apple has an impressive track record when it comes to product naming, and clarity has always played a very big role.

I don’t know exactly what the “S” is supposed to mean. But I’m pretty sure that 6 is better than 5.

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