iPhone is dead! Long live Apple Phone!

Somewhere in an alternate universe, Tim Cook is busy rehearsing his September 10th event.

He’s nervous. He’s about to do something incredibly bold. Maybe even crazy.

Going through his show, he pauses when he gets to the iPhone branding slide, imagining how the audience’s collective jaw will drop.

Despite the rumors, there is no number 11. There’s no X, R, S, SE, Plus or Max in sight. And that’s just the tip of this boldness iceberg. 

Alternate Tim takes a deep breath, then drops the bomb.

“Our new iPhones are so new, so totally amazing, so far beyond any iPhone we’ve made before, we’re not even calling them iPhones anymore,” he says. “Meet the new Apple Phones.”

After a 21-year run, the i is finally dead.

To i or not to i

As the guy who came up with the i, you might think I’d be sad if such a thing were to happen.

Au contraire.

I think it’s amazingly cool that the i-thing happened, but everything has a beginning and an end. The trick is knowing when to end.

Smarts and forward-thinking always beats clinging to the past.

The truth is, Apple has already made the i-decision. It’s been years since a new i-product appeared. Apple Watch, Apple Music, Apple Pay, Apple Card—all would be i-things under the old rules.

Know who else wanted to kill the i?  Steve Jobs.

13 years ago, he told me “the i has run its course.” The only thing that kept his ax from falling was iMac. Hard to call it “Mac” when every Apple computer is a Mac.

“We’ll figure that out one day,” he said.

True, this was before iPhone or iPad. Those products certainly extended the the life of the i. But extended isn’t forever.

Today, the i is neither here nor there. Hanging on, but on its way out. It’s been banished for two reasons—

Lawsuits. Apple inspired a tsunami of i-products around the world. It’s nearly impossible to launch a new one without legal challenges. 

Branding. Enhancing the Apple brand is far more important than enhancing the “i” sub-brand.

An alphanumeric mess

So yeah, the i needs to go. But let’s not blame iPhone’s history of bad naming on that innocent little creature.

The complex-ification of iPhone resulted from a shocking lack of common sense and historical perspective.

Apple has made plenty of mistakes, even when Steve was captain of the ship. The difference is, Steve would correct mistakes quickly, while iPhone naming confusion has been a 10-year saga of sadness.

Steve Jobs rescued us from horrendous Sculley-era product names. He demanded names that were simple and self-explanatory—like iPod touch and MacBook Air.

In what dimension would a customer ever pronounce “XR” as “Ten-R”? A pair of English letters is logically pronounced as two English letters.

On what planet can a customer tell which is the better phone, an XR or an XS? A jumble of letters offers zero product clarity.

Over the years, Apple leadership seems to have developed an immunity to common sense in iPhone naming.

Doubling down on dumb

Maybe Apple believes that deviating from a path they chose so long ago would show weakness.

But nobody is asking Tim Cook to stand up and say, “We named it wrong.” All he has to do is name it right.

Apple would not be admitting guilt or incompetence—it would only be making things simpler and better.

How can a company famous for change be so afraid to make a change? How can a company that puts the customer experience first believe that product names are exempt from the laws of common sense and clarity?

Much ado about nothing?

I’ve ranted about iPhone naming before. I know that some disagree.

The counter–argument is that iPhone sales over the years catapulted Apple to become the first trillion-dollar company, so … where exactly is the problem?

To that, I can only say that in the many years I worked with Steve Jobs, he never once said it was okay to get things 99% right. He demanded 100%.

There is no way to calculate how many customers or potential customers have been confused by iPhone naming. That’s not the point.

In Steve-speak, the point is—why confuse anyone when you can make things clear to everyone?

Alternate Tim has a plan

By all accounts, Tim Cook’s September 10th event will launch three new iPhones: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

That’s a real improvement over the previous year’s naming fiasco—but my heart is still in the alternate universe.

That’s where iPhone naming will be fixed once and for all, instead of in drips and drabs.

That’s where Apple will move beyond numbers, letters and Roman numerals that do little to clarify the products.

That’s where Apple will make the overdue move to jettison the i, to make “Apple” the foundation of all product names.

That’s where Apple will introduce two amazing new iPhones—the Apple Phone and the Apple Phone Pro. The latter being offered in two sizes, just as you can get two sizes of iMac, MacBook and Apple Watch.

In the alternate universe, Apple will proudly show how good it is at turning complex into simple, just like in the good old days.

Heck, maybe they’ll even figure out a way to deal with the i in iMac.

Note to our Tim: If you can’t do it this year, please aim for next? A core Steve Jobs value is at stake. If you need some motivation, just imagine the headlines Alternate Tim is about to generate.