Steve Jobs’ ad guru calls iPhone names ‘a war against common sense’

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Author Ken Segall worked in advertising with Steve Jobs for more than a dozen years. His new book is called Think Simple.
Ken Segall put the “i” in iMac, and now he wants iPhone names to make more sense.
Photo: Doug Schneider Photography

Apple’s decision to name its new flagship product the “iPhone XS Max” has drawn criticism. But none so harsh as from Ken Segall, who worked closely with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on marketing for over a decade.

He says he feels “a sense of dread” before every iPhone press event because “when it comes to iPhone naming, Apple seems to wage a war against common sense.”

Ken Segall isn’t your typical advertising exec. Years ago, he worked at Apple’s agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day where he cooperated with Steve Jobs. He put the “i” in iMac and worked on the famous “Think Different” campaign.

Stop the S “madness”

Segall advises Apple to stop being adding an S to every-other iPhone name. “This practice only reinforces the popular misperception that S models represent “off-years,” when only incremental improvements arrive.

“This is far from the reality, as some of iPhone’s most important updates have come in the S years (64-bit processing, Siri, Touch ID),” he asserts in his latest blog post.

Stop mixing roman and Arabic numerals

The correct pronunciation for the “iPhone X” is “iPhone ten” because that’s a Roman numeral, not a letter. It’s been a year and “customers remain confused about the X-or-ten thing,” according to Segall. And adding a letter to the Roman numeral in the iPhone XS just makes it worse.

“In general, Roman numerals and letters aren’t a good mix. Clearly not a product-killing faux pas, but also not a sterling example of naming perfection,” wrote the adman.

What does R stand for?

Along with the iPhone XS models, Apple announced the iPhone XR. 

Segall griped “The R is not only confusing when paired with X-pronounced-as-ten, it’s confusing all by itself. Specifically—what the heck does that R even mean?”

Some compliments

He did have some positive comments about the names of the 2018 models. Segall likes that all of them have a common identifier: the X. 

And he is pleased about the end of the iPhone SE. Not for its technical specifications but because it seemed to be a acronym that stood for nothing. As he put it, “Who knows what the “SE” even stood for.”

This isn’t the first time Segall has criticized Apple. Most recently, he advised  Tim Cook  to stop making boring advertising.