Why The Next iPhone Won’t Be Called The iPhone 5 [Opinion]

Why The Next iPhone Won’t Be Called The iPhone 5 [Opinion]

What will the next iPhone be called? Rumors have recently pegged it as being christened the iPhone 4S when it debuts in September, but would Apple really signify that the next iPhone is really just a slight revision over the current model… right in the brand name?

I think they will. Here’s why.

We won’t know exactly what’s going to change in the next iPhone over the current modeluntil Steve Jobs walks on stage and holds it aloft, but we’ve got a good idea of some of the details, and it doesn’t look like the next iPhone will be as sizable a leap tech-wise over the iPhone 4 as the iPhone 4 was over the iPhone 3GS.

Here’s what we know. The iPad 2’s debut with a next-gen A5 processor locks in that same chip in the next iPhone, so we’ll see a sizable speed bump in both processing power and graphics. Likewise, we know that the next iPhone probably won’t boast LTE speeds. Rumors are mounting that the iPhone 4 will get rid of its bezel and have an edge-to-edge horizontal display, but that’s hardly confirmed. Other than that, though, it appears that the next iPhone’s physical appearance will only be subtly different than that of the current iPhone 4. Most importantly, we know the next iPhone likely won’t be seen until September, three months later than its traditional June/July debut.

Even with that delay… for the millions of customers who just bought the Verizon iPhone or the 10-months-late white iPhone 4, there will be small comfort to be had when Apple releases a new, better iPhone just half a year later… unless Apple downplays the upgrade.

Because Apple only released the Verizon iPhone 4 in February and the white iPhone 4 in April, releasing a new iPhone model just five-to-seven months down the line risks alienating a lot of customers who just signed two year contracts. Rightly or wrongly, these customers will likely feel screwed by a substantial upgrade to their current handsets less than a year after they got their hands on Apple’s “latest” iPhone.

Apple doesn’t want these customers feeling screwed. Why? Because Apple’s perceived regularity with upgrades (and their history of only releasing sizable device upgrades every couple of years, to line up with the renewal of early adopter contracts) is a huge marketing advantage that Cupertino has over Google’s Android ecosystem.

In fact, in a recent study, Android owners said that they felt that Android and Windows Phone 7 handset makers were obsoleting their own smartphones far too quickly compared to Apple, and it’s hard to fault them: from April 2010 to March 2011, most of Apple’s competitors released over 15 new smartphones each, compared to Apple’s all-time-high of three phones (all identical in performance, if not in SKU) released this year.

The data speaks for itself. Upgrading handsets faster than your contract can be renewed alienates customers, and Apple is already skirting dangerously around this problem with their 2011 release cycle. That’s part of the reason why the next iPhone is going to be pushed to a September launch from the traditional June/July launch window. It’s also why Apple is likely to downplay the next iPhone.

But downplaying the next iPhone’s advantages over the current model is a slippery slope, and avoiding that slope is a subtle art: Apple needs to lure in new and returning customers with a meaty hardware upgrade, while at the same time placating customers who bought the “latest” iPhone just half a year before that they aren’t missing out on enough to get angry about.

The best way to do this is by branding. Apple previously used the ‘S’ iPhone branding with the iPhone 3GS: it was, from a layman’s perspective, a nearly identical phone to the iPhone 3G, except for a boost of speed. It’s the iPhone equivalent of a “0.5” upgrade.

If Apple brings back the ‘S’ branding for the next iPhone, Apple can provide rationale to customers who just bought the Verizon iPhone or the white iPhone 4 that they’re not missing much besides a slight speed boost and maybe a slightly larger display… even as Apple crows to the heavens in keynotes, press releases and ads about the iPhone 4S’s incredible hardware improvements. C

Combined with a sizable upgrade to the iOS software that brings the same new features to both existing iPhone 4s and the new iPhone 4S, Apple should be able to downplay resentment while maximizing excitement.

Long term, I don’t think this is what Apple wants to do. I think they want to stick to numerically numbering their iPhones and iPads, because it clearly and simply defines which models are current, which models are the future, and which models are the past. Due to the unforeseen delays in launching the white iPhone 4 as well as getting the iPhone onto Verizon as soon as Apple’s exclusivity deal with AT&T allowed, though, Apple’s going to have to dust off that ‘S’ moniker one last time before it puts it away again, hopefully for good.

What do you think? Will the next iPhone be called the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 or something else besides? Let us know in our comments.

  • Jordan

     Some very good points, but I think one of the main reasons for the ‘S’ branding on the iPhone 3GS has been overlooked. It was used as a way of inferring a minor update over the 3G. But also, it was used to align firmware and hardware revisions. When the 3G was launched, it ran iOS 2.0, and was the 2nd Generation iPhone. Apple needed a way to align. The iPhone 3GS came out, with iOS 3.0 and was the 3rd generation iPhone. Much easier for customers to understand. If they called the next iPhone the 4S… It would knock everything out of shape again.

  • brownlee

    That’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure how valid it is. After all, the iPad 2 really throws a spanner in the works of aligning iOS and iDevice revision numbers, doesn’t it? 

  • tekunoloji

    how can anyone compare the iPhone (made by ONE company) to another platform of phones and say there are too many new phones? Android and WP7 phones are made by a zillion different makers. of course there will be more phones at any given time = more upgrades in shorter periods.

    buy your phone, be happy with it. think of it as an investment for the next 2 yrs. that’s what iphone users do. 

  • quietstorms

    “Because Apple only released the Verizon iPhone 4 in February and the white iPhone 4 in April, releasing a new iPhone model just five-to-seven months down the line risks alienating a lot of customers who just signed two year contracts.”

    There will be customers angry this summer and the next when their contract is up because they’ll be buying an iPhone that’s been out for awhile. Apple doesn’t seem to worry about those customers which contradicts the previous statement.

     If what is rumored is true (A5, 64GB, NFC, better camera) then there really isn’t much less missing except LTE. The most important aspects now are software, not hardware. Hopfully iOS 5 won’t disappoint.

  • Sal

     Clearly, the true iPhone 5 will be a 4G LTE phone with “amazing” battery life that current 4G phones lack and will probably be announced around the January slot when the Verizon iPhone was unveiled. Both AT&T and Verizon customers will be excited and enticed to upgrade on a large scale as demand for innovation lust will be at an all time high. I dread thinking about the lines there will be for that phone. I also, think the “4S” will be aimed at new T-Mobile users, if the merger is finalized and perhaps even Sprint.

  • Jdanielw

    I think that they might call it the iPhone HD because they would put this rumored “edge to edge” display on it, as well as an HD FaceTime camera (the same that are found on the new macs), a new camera sensor that will be 8 megapixel and will shoot video in 1080P. To me, an iPhone 4S would be too much of an underplay, but a nice spec bump with some new HD cameras and a longer battery life would be awesome alog side of iOS5 (hopefully with a new notification system).

  • brownlee

    Read the link we cite. Samsung released 30 new phones last year. 30! On average, most of Apple’s competitors released more than 15 different smartphones each. This isn’t about the Android ecosystem releasing more phones than Apple: it’s about specific handset makers doing so.

  • Fatkid98

    ” There will be customers angry this summer and the next when their contract is up because they’ll be buying an iPhone that’s been out for awhile. Apple doesn’t seem to worry about those customers which contradicts the previous statement.”

    Yes, customers like me!  My iPhone 3GS contract is up at the end of June and there is no way I’m upgrading to a phone that is a year old!  But at the same time, I’d like to get a new phone.  The 3GS is starting to show its age.  Will I wait and get the iPhone 4S (or whatever it’ll be called) or will I get something else all together?  Me…..I’ll end up waiting.  I’ve invested in way too many apps to move to a different platform (yes, apps are investments).  Other 3GS owners…well, that’s another story.

  • 300AShareMakesMeSmile

    I never understand why they talk about how iPhone owners who just purchased an iPhone will be so disappointed when a new iPhone is released.  I’m sure they all know that there will always be a newer iPhone at some point.  I mean, once  you’re locked into a two-year contract, you’ll most likely be skipping the next year’s model.  If you’re that unhappy, you can always sell it to someone else.  After all, on the Android side, they change models every few months, so Android users could surely miss out on latest models within a few months all year long.  Apple isn’t cheating anyone.  When the white iPhone was introduced, people wanted the white iPhone for the color, obviously, not the hardware.  Unless you’re playing the latest games that require the extra processing power, if you’ve purchased an iPhone recently, you’ll still have a decent smartphone.

    Apple is not trying to confuse consumers.  I think they are basically working within component availability limits.  They can easily get their hands on processors since they control a lot of that process.  I know that when the 3GS came out, the pundits said it wouldn’t sell because it was too close to the 3G, but it had huge sales.  This 4GS will likely sell very well with the added processing power and whatever extras it provides.  Pundits really don’t get it.  Apple can sell any product because they know how to market their devices.  They’ll make it appealing enough despite it not being an iPhone 5.

  • Jordan

    Ah, never even considered the iPad! You’re right about firmware revisions being out-of-line. But more in terms of hardware, the iPad 2 is the second generation iPad. But if Apple called the next one iPad 2S, it would still appear (to the average consumer) like the second revision. Although I suppose that leads back to your point that it’s not a “major” revision.

  • Jordan Clay

    Brownlee,

    Good article, but I have to disagree. 
    I believe Apple will market this as a slight speed bump upgrade like
    they did with the 3GS.  However, Apple
    has positioned themselves to write 5 all over this phone.   A5
    processor, iOS 5, and the 5th generation of the iPhone. 

    I believe that Apple is going release the slightly updated iPhone 5/4S in
    September, and then get back on schedule with the June release next year in
    2012.  This splits the difference of people
    that upgraded w/ Verizon/white iPhone, and their regular release schedule,
    also, it allows the technology to catch up with out getting too far behind the
    curve (think NFC)

    But hey..i don’t make my living blogging about apple.
     

  • Michael Otto1979

    I think Apple will just go back to “iPhone” branding. Looking at how they’ve handled upgrades in the past for their other products, I.e. MacBook Pro updates don’t turn in to MacBook Pro 2 or MacBook Pro 2S, it stays the MacBook Pro. As with iPod updates, the design changes (although sometimes very subtle) inform the user on which model they’re looking at. It’s just an opinion, but I think that’s the classy way to handle it. The current iPhone 4 only says “iPhone” on the back. The design speaks for itself. However, if the body is exactly the same, I.e. iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, a need to differentiate arises.

  • Derek Martin

    The move to a September release has me wonder if Apple is about to re-engineer their whole release date schedule. 

    Maybe all iOS products in September, before Christmas… and all OS X products in May. 
    Maybe all major software upgrades in May, and all major hardware upgrades in September. 
    Maybe a quarterly thing: 1) OS X; 2) OS X hardware; 3) iOS; 4) iOS hardware.

    I’m interested to see how it all pans out.

  • chrisabraham

    I think you’re right. I couldn’t believe how soon the iPad2 came out after the original iPad, though I remember that Apple was the first company to screw its new users by upgrading right after their last buyers — but I have never been, myself, an earliest-adopter.  I think I will get the 4S if it is called that because I think I am tired of the Blackberry Bold — finally.  Will I wait in line for it?  No.

  • JonMinn

    I’m betting it will be called the ‘iPhone 4G’.  With the iPhone 3G, Apple showed they will abandon sequential product names when there is play on words related to the introduction of a next-gen wireless standard (if they called the 2nd generation iPhone the ‘3G’, why not call the 5th generation the ‘4G’?).

    I can already hear the objections – we’re not going to see LTE in the next generation.  Maybe.  I think we may see a phone in June/July, in which case I agree we will not get LTE and then I think the phone would simply be called the iPhone 5.  If we have to wait until Sep for the next phone, the phone will ship with LTE and be called the ‘iPhone 4G’.

    Think about it.  What about the next-gen iPhone would possibly cause Apple (or their supply chain) to know as early as March, that they would have to delay a July intro to Sept?  The A5, which is already in mass production?  A slightly different aspect ratio on the display?  Wasn’t there rumored delay in releasing the iPad this year?

    Contract renewal cycles are two years in length.  There are always going to be consumers who just purchased the old model – even if Apple waits until September to introduce the next generation iPhone.  These would have no bearing on Apples intro date.  Apple is known for updating its products on a regular annual schedule, unless there is a compelling technological/product reason to deviate.

    If we don’t see an iPhone announcement at WWDC, prepare for ‘iPhone 4G’ sporting LTE in Sept.

  • Guest

    Here’s my take, when the iPhone 3GS was revealed, it was during a financial crisis in which most consumers did not have the resources to spend a hefty amount of income for a new phone.  They did slight modifications to keep the consumer enticed but really blew the doors off with the iPhone 4. I think the 3GS was an anomaly and I think A LOT of consumers would be confused about the iPhone 4s name, that just doesn’t really make sense.

    Here’s what makes sense, don’t name it the iPhone 5/4s but iPhone 4G. Sure, based on appearance it might look the same (hopefully with a 3.7 inch display) but make the inside really count – dual core and 4G speed.

  • AgirlyGirl

     I disagree. 

    Apple is a company which follows through with it’s product’s generation when marketing it. I don’t know what the next iPhone will be called, but for now iPhone 5 suits it best. 
    I don’t believe that the 2011 iPhone will be “just a spec bump”, Apple has too much competition and would want current iPhone 4 owners to upgrade. They purposely omitted specific features so that they can put it on the iPhone 5. So it just won’t be a better camera, and an A5 processor. We’ll find out closer to time. Also, i don’t think Apple really cares about the small percentage of Verizon iPhone owners, or white iPhone owners. The iPhone is a global phone and there are people around the world waiting for it. They could care less about Verizon. 
    Heck, most of the people are holding out to buy an iPhone and waiting for the iPhone 5. 

    The Verizon iPhone and the release of the White one, are just ways of milking the iPhone 4 before the launch of the iPhone 5. Why? Because last year as soon as the iPhone 4 ‘prototype’ was leaked, the iPhone 3GS sales dropped drastically. 
    It’s all business. 

    Some people think like you and say that the iPad 2 should’ve been an iPad 1S. It makes no sense. The iPhone 3G was named like that to emphasize that it has 3G network capabilities, and emphasized on the app store. Internally the original iPhone and iPhone 3G are very much the same. The iPhone 3GS was named because they emphasized on speed (the iPhone 3G was noticeably slow). Also, in a marketing point it made no sense to go from iPhone 3G -> iPhone 3, consumers want to see additional things. 

    This is how the iPhones have been launched corresponding with their generation. 

    iPhone = iPhone 1
    iPhone 3G = iPhone 2
    iPhone 3GS = iPhone 3
    iPhone 4 = iPhone 4

    by your logic:

    iPhone 4S = iPhone 5
    iPhone 5 = iPhone 6
    iPhone 5S = iPhone 7
    iPhone 6 = iPhone 8

    See how that doesn’t work? It’s not like Apple, to simply skip a certain generation number as well. Since they finally got the numbering in order, it makes no sense to screw it up again.
    Also, are we implying that the iPhone 4 is slow if we call the next one iPhone 4S? 

  • Wpippy

    I fully agree, being an iPhone 3GS owner, I’ll be holding out for the REAL iPhone 5 not an iPhone 4 spec bump.

  • JonMinn

    Not sure I agree it agree the 3GS was a minor update – faster processor, 2x the memory, 2x max storage, HSDPA support and video capability among other things.  The 3G had the same processor, same memory, same max storage, same camera.  Is the the GS really that minor of an update?  It sounds like a more significant update than many people are expecting from the next iPhone.

  • Jesper Andersson

     I think they’ll stick with the numbers for a while and then it’ll just be called the iPhone.

  • bleh

    Apps are not investments.  They are a genius way of getting money out of your pocket.  And they are trapping you in their world, because you invested so much on their platform now you don’t even consider switching even if there were a million reasons. 

  • Guy

    Same, but the waiting hurts…

  • ray

     Maybe they’ll call one future model iPhone LTE

  • babdoc

    Well, I sure hope this isn’t the case.  I ended up on the 3GS bandwagon…right between the two sweet upgrades:  adding 3G and retina display, etc.  A minor bump doesn’t serve those of us that are nearing the end of our 2 year contracts with a 3GS.  We’re at risk of getting perpetual half upgrades and then having to stand by watching the sweet upgrades while in the middle of our contracts.  I doubt there are that many people willing to shell out the dough to get out from under this cycle.  I also would think Apple wouldn’t sacrifice the excitement of half of it’s recurring customers….at least I hope not.  I understand not wanting to alienate the people that just got a white or Verizon iPhone, but there has to be at least as many, if not more, people waiting to upgrade when their 3GS contract is up.

  • Icyfog

     The S designator seems reasonable to me. 

  • Edgar Rios

    it will be called: iPhone, again.

  • Jazzepat

     Man, Im still rocking an iPhone 3G, wanted the white iPhone4 on what was meant to be its original launch, but unless my 3G dies a catastrophic death between now and September/November, Im waiting it out.. in fact its now like a challenge to see how long I can keep it going… that said, it still works mostly perfect for what I use it for, except its getting slow.. and I have occasional telco network issues (which I cant workout are the phones fault or the networks fault)

  • Alexwalex

    but what about the name of the OS? iPhone had the first OS then i got a bit “copnfusing” with iPhone 3G running OS 2. But since 3GS running OS 3 there was an alliance between the phone and OS number. I don’t think they would like to change that again. So iPhone 5 runs iOS 5

  • Stuart Otterson

     Well it might not be that the iPhone 5 = iPhone 6, they might just brand it as iPhone 6 in which case the iPhone 5 would never receive branding. It would still be unusual for Apple to skip a whole number though and be rather jarring for customers.

    And well the iPhone 4 would be slow compared to the iPhone 4S wouldn’t it? It’s not implying so much as truth. After all the iPhone 3GS was faster than the 3G, that was the whole point of the S.

    I have no idea what Apple will do personally, nor am I interested in weighing in theories I’ll just see what they do later this year.

  • Stuart Otterson

     Possible, a bit like the iPods aren’t properly marked up with their generation number but people tend to know there’s a difference in generation.

  • tefloncreavalle

    I personally think that iPhone GSM and iPhone CDMA will have some different release dates unless Verizon does like AT&T and allows for an early upgrade. Those who got the iPhone 4 white, already KNEW what they were getting into. They knew it wasn’t NEW or different except for a color change. The market is not about alienating anyone, its about business and profit. Look at HTC and Samsung, they’ve released over 20 handsets across the carriers for the last year! Everyone gets screwed, you’ll never be “on top” but for a day. The truth is, there are a handful of actual iPhone users, that are like “I’ve GOT to get the next iPhone as soon as it drops (in comparison to the actual iPhone community. Bottom-line, Apple’s revolutionary ideas, might not always be on time, but when they drop, they are the best at the implementation. They revolutionized the smartphone game, and they will continue. To me the rest of the “features” that all other phone are smoke and mirrors that most of those user BARELY or RARELY use. Flash? 3D? I can count the mount of sites that didn’t have a mobile version or HTML/5 version that have stopped me from browsing the site on my iOS device. 

  • Stuart Otterson

    You know guys, gotta give due credit to Brownlee, he speculated it well.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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