2019 could be the year Apple fixes iPhone naming

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The camera bump is about to get bumpier in the iPhone XI.
We may about to wake up from Apple's iPhone naming nightmare.
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Earlier this year, I complained that Apple’s iPhone naming strategy was broken. Now, thanks to a popular case maker, we may know Apple’s naming choice for the 2019 iPhones: the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

And you know what? If it’s accurate, Apple has remedied one of the most unnecessarily complex aspects of its most popular product line.

Sorting out the naming nightmare

“Please, Apple, sort out your product naming nightmare,” I begged, in an article published back in March. It came after Apple introduced its new iPads, which just added to the already convoluted naming system Apple has increasingly employed under Tim Cook.

We were, I said, a long way from the simple product grid Steve Jobs introduced when he returned to Apple in the late 1990s. At the time, the idea was that Apple would offer portable and desktop Macs, with one consumer and one professional model for each. It was a long way from the quagmire of baffling Apple naming in the 1990s. That was back when Apple had different lines of Mac like the Quadra, Centris and Performa, leading to ungainly names like the Performa 6117CD. Steve simplified things.

But after Jobs, things went south again. Apple started splitting its product lines again in an effort to appease users by offering things like iPhones with different size displays. For me, last year’s iPhone release represented the nadir of this particular problem.

What’s changed? (Maybe)

The nonsensical names, I ranted, looked like someone in marketing had fallen asleep with their head on the keyboard.

“The ‘X’ in iPhone ‘XS,’ ‘XS Max’ and ‘XR’ comes from the Roman numeral 10. Apple insists we pronounce the names like ’10S,’ ’10S Max’ and ’10R,’ although none of them came out on the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. ‘XS’ carries over the ‘s’ naming scheme Apple employed for years, but where does the ‘R’ come from? And why is the ‘Plus’ model now called the ‘Max’?”

A first world problem? Maybe. But frustrating nonetheless. This year, however, it seems like Apple’s been listening. (Not to me, but to the army of people who presumably thought along the same lines.)

iPhone 11 naming
Is this confirmation of Apple’s next iPhone naming strategy? I hope so!
Photo: iPhonesoft.fr/ESR

Apple’s once again releasing three iPhones, but according to case maker ESR (via iPhonesoft.fr), these will have far more sensible names. The iPhone XR’s successor will be called the iPhone 11. The iPhone XS’s sequel is the iPhone 11 Pro, keeping the naming tradition of the iMac Pro, MacBook Pro, and iPad Pro. Finally, the iPhone XS Max’s follow-up will be the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Of these, the Pro Max has the most ungainly name. But it’s at least a name that makes sense. And Apple couldn’t really call it the Pro Plus; at least not in the UK, where Pro Plus is the name of a brand of caffeine tablets for letting students stay awake to finish essays.

No, the iPhone 11 isn’t rumored to be the most exciting iPhone refresh in years. It could even be a little boring. For the really exciting upgrade, we’ll likely have to wait for 2020’s 5G handsets. But if Apple’s sorted out its naming nightmare, that’s reason for celebration!

Who’s with me?