Why iPhone XS is a brilliant name for Apple’s new phone

By

iPhone X
Turns out iPhone XS shouldn't be pronounced "iPhone 10 S."
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

You might be pronouncing the name of Apple’s next smartphone incorrectly. And this goes beyond the confusion resulting from people not calling the iPhone X the “iPhone 10”. But it’s related.

It turns out the “S” in the iPhone XS doesn’t mean what you think it means.

First off, we should point out that there’s no confirmation yet that Apple will unveil a model called the iPhone XS tomorrow. But there have been enough leaks that it’s virtually certain.

Next, let’s be clear last year’s iPhone X is pronounced “iPhone 10” because Apple switched to Roman numerals for the tenth iPhone. As we all know, X is the Roman numeral for 10.

S stands for…

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Romans needed a way to express fractions, obviously. And the Roman numerals for one-half is… drum roll, please… S. When Julius Caesar wanted to write 10 and a half, he wrote “XS”.

Turns out the S stands for “semi.” As in a semicircle being half of a circle.

So when you’re referring to the iPhone XS, maybe you should call it the ‘iPhone 10 and a half.” Which is brilliant, because from everything we can tell, this model really will be the iPhone 10.5. A bit better, but not dramatically improved.

Back to reality

Some of the people reading this are about to have a brain aneurism in their extreme need to point out that Apple started appending an “S” to the names of its models long before it switched to Roman numerals. Don’t waste your time. We’re completely aware of this. And we’re just as certain as you are that when Apple CEO Tim Cook announces this new model tomorrow, he’ll pronounce it “iPhone 10 S.”

The very first iOS device with the “S” attached was the iPhone 3GS way back in 2009. At that time, Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of Marketing, specifically said it stood for “speed.” And apparently it still will, as the iPhone XS is expected to be faster than its immediate predecessor thanks to a speedy new Apple A12 processor.

Still, the fact that Tim Cook could correctly pronounce iPhone XS as “iPhone 10 and half” makes a fun little historical coincidence. 

Thanks to Norman Preston for the tip!