Is this the year Apple fixes its broken iPhone naming strategy?


iphone glitch
iPhone naming is all kinds of broken these days.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple could be about to change the way it names successive generations of iPhone. The aim would be to simplify a naming pattern that has become increasingly unwieldy in the past few years.

It’s about time — although that doesn’t mean a new iPhone naming system will necessarily make things any less confusing. Here’s why.

iPhone naming: Keep it simple, stupid

Tim Cook, like Steve Jobs before him, always has been rightly proud of how focused Apple’s product lines are. Even now, with Apple closing in on a $1 trillion valuation, every major product the company makes could still fit on a large-ish table.

That’s not to say that Apple hasn’t spread its wings in recent years. Right now, the company makes iPhones, iPads, iPods, iMacs, MacBooks, the HomePod, Apple TV, AirPods, Apple Pencil and Apple Watch. Plus, it fields a growing number of software-based services like Apple Music and iCloud.

Drill down into some of these categories and you often find several generations of product under each banner. The iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are, technically, the current-generation iPhones. But Apple still sells the iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Things are nowhere near as bad as they were during the 1990s, when Apple computers had unwieldy names like the Macintosh Quadra 660AV (also called the Macintosh Centris 660AV). Nonetheless, it’s a far cry from when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. He quickly dialed back the Apple lineup to a simple grid of easily remembered products.

Apple’s a different company now

Here in 2018, we get that Apple has changed. It’s a much larger company than the one Jobs rescued from bankruptcy.

Selling products to an enormous worldwide customer base means Apple must offer more variation. Rival manufacturers have also upped their game. If Apple did not produce a phablet-size iPhone, some customers would simply go with a competitor instead.

But Apple’s product names have nonetheless become a bit complicated. It started with the interim “s” model between full-number iPhones, although it’s gotten a whole lot worse since then.

In 2014, Apple split the iPhone into the 4.7-inch regular model and the 5.5-inch iPhone Plus models.

In 2017, it skipped the “s” model to jump straight to the iPhone 8. At the same time, it released the iPhone X to mark the iPhone’s 10th anniversary (X is the Roman numeral for 10). The iPhone 8 Plus is larger than the iPhone X, but has a smaller display. Got it?

Then there’s the iPhone SE, which exists outside Apple’s numbering scheme, but could soon be sequel-ized with the iPhone SE 2.

Oh, and there’s a (PRODUCT)RED iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, too.

This year, Apple will reportedly release 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhone X models with high-end OLED displays, along with a 6.1-inch iPhone with an LCD display.

And suddenly we’re a pair of baggy jeans and a grunge album away from re-entering the 1990s.

How Apple could simplify iPhone names

So, what’s the answer? According to Guggenheim analyst Robert Cihra, Apple’s upcoming mid-market LCD iPhone will be simply called “iPhone.” The two other sizes will meanwhile be called “iPhone X.”

That’s not bad — and while we might quibble about the “X” hanging around past the anniversary year, it’s no different from OS X lasting for more than a decade in different versions.

Cupertino’s been through this before. Apple dubbed the original iPad’s successor the “iPad 2.” Its follow-up? The “New iPad,” followed by the “iPad Air,” and then back to plain old “iPad.” With the Mac, Apple more or less has stuck to its guns, naming each generation the same as the prior model.

Simplifying iPhone names as Cihra suggests would not sort out the problem of how we would refer to older models if Apple keeps selling them, though. Maybe calling each year’s model simply “iPhone” (or “iPhone X”) with no identifying suffix would make things even worse, especially as consumers hold onto old smartphones longer.

Maybe, here in 2018, it’s time we just gave up on a simple approach to naming iPhones and other Apple products.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.