How Apple should name their phones

With Apple's Fall 2019 event around the corner, could they give their phones better names?

Week 96 was posted by Charanjit Chana on 2019-08-26.

Defining how things are named year after year is not a job I envy and yet every tech company struggles to get it right. macOS has largely followed a consistent trend from 10.0 onwards, but Apple ran out of big cats and switched to naming the operating system after different geographical features of California.

Mac hardware has largely forgone an incremental name and iPads have and haven’t had numerical suffixes.

The iPhone though, as a flagship product seems to have the worst. Starting with the iPhone, the 3G replaced it and after a speed bump, the name jumped to 4 introducing the concept of a numerical suffix. The 4 also saw a speed bump and became the 5, despite being phone number 6! After the 7 (no speed bumps here) we got the 8 and then the 10. For simplicity, this is how it should have gone:

Proposed NameReal NameRetired
iPhone 3GiPhone 3G2010
iPhone 3GsiPhone 3GS2012
iPhoneiPhone 42011
iPhone SiPhone 4S2013
iPhone 4GiPhone 52013
iPhone 4G SiPhone 5S2016
iPhone CiPhone 5C2015
iPhoneiPhone 62016
iPhone+iPhone 6 Plus2016
iPhone SiPhone 6S2016
iPhone S+iPhone 6S Plus2016
iPhoneiPhone 7
iPhone+iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone SEiPhone SE2017
iPhone SiPhone 8
iPhone S+iPhone 8 Plus
iPhone ProiPhone X2018
iPhoneiPhone XR
iPhone ProiPhone XS
iPhone Pro+iPhone XS Max

Only important suffixes survive and only for the generations they were introduced. The iPhones that introduced 3G & 4G get two years as suffixes as the tech is introduced and the Pro suffix denotes the form factor that actually costs more. Is the Xs anymore ‘pro’ than the Xr? No, but its price point suggests that. This would inevitably have caused confusion when a previous years model was still available in the lineup as Apple have done from the 3GS onwards.

I get it, naming schemas are a pain and affixing a number only takes you so far if you position every other year as an integration rather than a revolution. One of the most consistent naming conventions has come from the gaming world for sports titles whose names carry the year in which the title is claimed in the real world. FIFA ‘19 or NFL ‘17 by EA sports for example. So this is how I think Apple could have tidied it all up:

Proposed NameReal Name
iPhone 3GiPhone 3G
iPhone 3GsiPhone 3GS
2011 iPhoneiPhone 4
2012 iPhone SiPhone 4S
2013 iPhone 4GiPhone 5
2014 iPhone 4G SiPhone 5S
2015 iPhone CiPhone 5C
2015 iPhoneiPhone 6
2015 iPhone+iPhone 6 Plus
2016 iPhone SiPhone 6S
2016 iPhone S+iPhone 6S Plus
2017 iPhoneiPhone 7
2017 iPhone+iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone SEiPhone SE
2018 iPhone SiPhone 8
2018 iPhone S+iPhone 8 Plus
2018 iPhone ProiPhone X
2019 iPhoneiPhone XR
2019 iPhone ProiPhone XS
2019 iPhone Pro+iPhone XS Max

This would make the models announced next month to be called:

Now this re-introduces the issue around having the previous years models in the lineup as the gap grows when you keep multiple predecessors in the lineup. In the pre-iPhone X era, just the previous model was kept but when last years iPhone X gave way to the Xs models, the iPhone 7 stuck around as well as the 8. I expect Apple will keep the iPhone 8 in the lineup but will they keep the 7, the Xr or Xs models too? Maybe not but that still puts a two year gap between the latest and oldest models available.

This assumes that a Touch ID iPhone exists into 2020. Marketing wise, perhaps it's problematic that the difference in years is spelled out but as a consumer your takeaway will either be that the iPhone 8 came before the iPhone 11 or that the iPhone 8 is a lesser phone than the iPhone 11.

Perhaps the iPhone 8 needs a bit of a spec bump anyway, in which case it could gain a new moniker, the iPhone 9 perhaps?


John Gruber's The Talk Show podcast just covered Apple's naming convention In the latest edition. They talked about the models having the number 11 in their name and continued to refer to the largest phone as the Max whereas I favour the + suffix which is still a mouthful when you have to say it but I just find it more visually appealing.

Tags: apple, iphone, apple, iphone

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