The Pixar iPhone: It is time to start questioning the iPhone ‘S’ cycle

“It is time to start questioning the iPhone ‘S’ cycle, the often referred to development cycle theory in which a significant iPhone update is followed by a more minor, evolutionary update the following yea,” Neil Cybart writes for Above Avalon. ” Instead, the best way to understand how Apple thinks about iPhone development is to look at Pixar. The film company has multiple films under development at any given time in order to ship at least one new film a year.”

“Similarly, Apple is developing a number of iPhone features at any given time with the goal of shipping a more advanced iPhone at least once a year,” Cybart writes. “As more people upgrade their iPhones annually using monthly leases, shipping iPhone features just to match a two-year iPhone ‘S’ cycle begins to look like a dated theory.”

“Partly due to Apple’s own iPhone nomenclature, consensus has settled on the theory that Apple keeps its significant iPhone updates for whole numbered years (iPhone 3G, 4, 5, 6, and so on),” Cybart writes. “Consequently, the odd years, or so-called ‘S’ years, are characterized by more modest, evolutionary software and hardware upgrades (iPhone 3GS, 4s, 5s, 6s and so on).”

“For Apple, the iPhone is likely following a product development strategy and timeline similar to that of Pixar. At any one time, Apple has a number of iPhone features under development since it takes more than one year for many features to go from concept to finished product,” Cybart writes. “The era of a tick-tock development cycle for iPhone is over.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The shape of the case should not the most important factor in the naming of the device. It never was. Even if this “S” naming convention was Steve Jobs’ idea, it was wrong then and, as Apple obviously wants people to upgrade to a new iPhone annually, it’s even more wrong today. Fix it, Apple. The naming of the device should denigrate and/or deprecate the product. This is basic marketing and branding, not rocket science. Then Tim won’t have to “bristle” when morons claim the new iPhone that Apple just worked on for a year is a “minor” improvement with some “slight” changes.

Apple, enough with the stupid iPhone ‘S’ naming already.

iPhone “S” years usher in hugely significant features, such as oleophobic displays, significant GPU improvements, world phone capability, Siri personal assistant, video stabilization, panorama photos, 64-bit processors, TD-LTE support, Touch ID, and 3D Touch, among other improvements and additions. Each year’s iPhone deserves its own number. By not doing so, Apple is shooting itself in the foot; handicapping iPhones with an “S” every other year. Why Tim Cook or Phil Schiller haven’t put an end to this stupid – yes, stupid – “S” naming is inexplicable. Why don’t you just name it “iPhone No Big Deal This Year,” Tim and Phil?

Here’s what you say onstage and in the press release when there’s no “iPhone 7s” and you jump directly from iPhone 7 to iPhone 8: “The improvements are such that the new iPhone deserves its own number.” Period. Done. Mission accomplished. It’s your naming convention, Apple, and you can correct your stupid mistake at any time.MacDailyNews, September 16, 2015

It’s as if Apple is naming iPhone models solely for their own internal inventory purposes, just so they can keep track of which model is which, with no regard for how the iPhones are perceived by the rest of the world – the media, the customers, etc. – outside One Infinite Loop.

The “S” doesn’t stand for “Speed,” it stands for “Stupid.” Yes, we know it’s the same case design; we know the “S” version is the one you make the big margins on; we get it. Call it the “S” internally if you must, but don’t be so engineer-ish that you insist on calling it that on the box, too!

It’s not about sales figures or the model’s success (as long as “iPhone” is in the name, it will be a success), it’s about setting a tone. In this case, with the “S,” Apple sets a tone that they are just making an incremental update… Why gift the naysayers with the opportunity, Apple?MacDailyNews Take, April 5, 2013

There are plenty of numbers in the universe. Infinite, actually. Don’t worry, Apple, you won’t run out.MacDailyNews, October 4, 2011

Apple, enough with the stupid iPhone ‘S’ naming already – September 16, 2015


  1. “consensus has settled on the theory”

    You mean the consensus of journalist who follow what everyone is writing about – consensus.
    iPhone buyers are not stupid. We can see what it is, the numbers prove it. Apple is doing just fine without your advice.

  2. MDN has jumped the shark! I thought they had their head screwed on right, but I guess they cross threaded a few turns.

    I love the “S” naming convention just because the main shape of the iPhone should be timeless for about two years. Keep it that way Apple. And NO, an S update is not minor but I prefer the same shape over two cycles.

    1. I think you misunderstood. No one is saying not to keep the same shape. Put another way: both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8 can have the same shape. Nothing prevents that. But calling it 8 enhances the significance of its internal improvements even if the exterior doesn’t change.

  3. Is the iPhone any different to many of the other regularly upgraded bits of technology – I think not.

    Cars, TVs you name it, companies develop tech or buy in new features by absorbing start-ups to offer enough features to convince punters to buy the new model.

    This years’ colour or styling also play a part in this form of conspicious consumption.

    To this you then have to add the in-house development the change in internal tech, power, etc. and design ( linked to the point above).

    As for the 6S – I don’t care what they call it, I buy when the old one is either knackered or too outdated for the capabilities to work. This time its the finger sensor, better camera, 3D touch etc that has me going from 4S to 6S

  4. While the ‘new’ model might have a new shape, the way I see it, the ‘S’ model is the one to wait for. This is the model that has all the kinks worked out AND the major internal upgrades.

    1. I agree. Been upgrading with the ‘S’ cycle the past three iPhones. I prefer to have the perfected model, even though it’s tempting to have the brand-spanking new one.

      Oh, and I’m OK with using the ‘S’ nomenclature.

  5. “S” indicates “Same form factor”. The whole world knows that’s how the iPhone naming convention works. And some people (like Sarasota, above) consider it the phone to wait for.

    It’s a non-issue.

  6. First iPhone 3, 4, 5 or 6.

    Soon after, 3S, 4S, 5S and the 6S. Significantly improved.

    Always thought that the ‘S’ stood for Steve, and got that designation after Steve, or after Steve would have if he were still here, really wanted to launch in the first place.

    1. I agree that the S versions provided greater improvements in functionality over the previous version than the non-S versions. This was most obvious in the 5 to 5s jump.

      The naming convention is irrelevant in any case. If we drop the “S” we’ll just shift to odd and even. The naming of iPhones is one of the silliest topics imaginable and doesn’t deserve the overblown attention it’s receiving.

  7. I’m really sure the reason for ‘s’ now but perhaps it’s got something to do with encouraging sales right till the new one is launched.
    what i mean is if 7 follows 6 lots of people will hold off for months buying an iPhone and wait for 7.
    now with the ‘s’ system there doesn’t seem to be much of a drop in sales (in July, Aug) .
    Maybe it’s more to do with the quarterly financial report and stock rather than tech. (Press who should know better often mistakenly quotes SEQUENTIAL quarter results rather than year to year. “apple failing iPhone sales down from last quarter ! ” etc )

    Maybe Psychologically also people feel better (they just bought a 6 a few months ago but don’t feel so ‘cheated’ when the 6s comes out. Customers stay happier longer). Similarly 6s to 7. Apple is in to keep customers happy long term.

  8. Changing the case is probably the most complex and expensive change that can be made on a smartphone since it affects so many components.

    By not changing the case every second year, Apple saves costs and engineering resources which can be directed towards improvements inside the shell.

    The writer is wrong about the “off years” and the S models have seen the release of pivotal technologies.

    Even with the switch to subscriptions and an annual rollover I doubt that Apple will change their strategy: users expect an iPhone 7 to look different to an iPhone 6 and if it were not obviously different the press and users would grumble.

    Sometimes MDN sounds like it is operated by spoiled teenagers. There is a business case here guys, and the “I want, I want, I want” refrain is unlikely to shift Apple.

  9. In reality, there is no real problem with Apple’s naming conventions. Yes, Android fans and some members of the media play into such nonsense and make incorrect assumptions. However, as sales demonstrate, there is no material impact in the naming convention of iPhones. To that end, I’m getting a 6s on Friday. Whether it’s called the iPhone 6s or the iPhone 9 is irrelevant to me, a paying customer.

  10. What’s in a name? — everything, and nothing. The letter S is the phonetic sibilant sound of hissing, its shape that of the serpent in Genesis who tempted Eve with the fruit of forbidden knowledge, leading to our species’ fall from grace, as symbolised by the Apple logo with its missing byte. After which event, Adam was given naming rights to the entire animal kingdom.

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