Apple’s inexplicably awful iPhone naming schemes

“Every September, I eagerly await the unveiling of the new iPhones. I also feel a sense of dread, wondering what Apple is going to call them,” Ken Segall writes for The Observatory. “That’s because, when it comes to iPhone naming, Apple seems to wage a war against common sense… Inexplicably, the company continues to struggle with four naming problems of its own making.”

“Apple clings to the notion that unveiling an S model every other year is a good idea. It isn’t,” Segall writes. “Not to sound like a broken record, but 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)… Why on earth would you train your customers to believe there are ‘on’ and ‘off’ years? It’s naming insanity.”

MacDailyNews Take: As regular readers know, we’ve written a book’s worth on iPhone naming. Some examples:

“S” year iPhones were not “slight upgrades,” but that horrid mischaracterization is exactly why we advised Apple to drop the the stupid “S of Death” naming scheme many years ago.MacDailyNews, September 13, 2017

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

“When we see a model identifier like ‘8S,’ we read it as a number and a letter. When we see a model identifier like ‘XS’ or ‘XR,’ our little brains see two letters. In general, Roman numerals and letters aren’t a good mix,” Segall writes. “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?”

MacDailyNews Take: Don’t say it, but you know critics (and maybe even some X, Xs, and Xs Max owners) are thinking, “Oh, the XR is that iPhone with the [R worded] display.” More brilliant naming on Apple’s part. Lead everyone straight toward the most damaging adjective possible.

“In the name iPhone XS, is that a big S or a little s?” Segall writes. “Inconsistencies drive me crazy. In Apple literature, it’s a small s. In ads from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Best Buy, it’s a big S. Can we hold Apple responsible for its partners’ ads? Hell, yes. Apple makes and enforces a ton of rules for anyone authorized to sell its products. The devil is in the details.”

MacDailyNews Take: We remain wholly unconvinced that Tim Cook’s Apple holds attention to detail in the same esteem as Steve Jobs’ Apple once did.

“The Samsung-ization of iPhone ads Okay, this isn’t a naming thing, but to many it is far more disturbing,” Segall writes. “On first viewing, Apple’s ad for the XS/Max felt more like Samsung to me than Apple. In fact, it is stunningly similar in style to the Samsung Note 9 ad running currently.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As per iPhone naming, either Phil Schiller, SVP of the world’s most valuable company and a marketing master in most other matters, is one of the world’s most awful, most confused product-namers ever; the naming is due to too many Cooks in the kitchen (smirk); or Phil’s just fscking with us. With names like “Xs,” “Xs Max,” and “XR,” we lean toward the latter explanation.

On that last point, the “Samsung-ization of iPhone ads:” Our thoughts exactly. Except Samsung’s song is catchier and therefore better.

iPhone 9? Apple has likely changed how iPhones are named – September 13, 2017
Apple, enough with the stupid iPhone ‘S’ naming already – September 16, 2015


    1. We all know the first iPhone debuted in 2007. If Apple had chosen to use a naming convention similar to the auto industry, it would look like this:

      iPhone 2007 (model year 1)
      iPhone 2008 (model year 2)
      iPhone 2009 (model year 3)
      iPhone 2010 (model year 4)
      iPhone 2011 (model year 5)
      iPhone 2012 (model year 6)
      iPhone 2013 (model year 7)
      iPhone 2014 (model year 8)
      iPhone 2015 (model year 9)
      iPhone 2016 (model year 10)
      iPhone 2017 (model year 11)
      iPhone 2018 (model year 12)

      Notice by 2017 Apple was selling 11 new phone models, not X.

      The media often makes this mistake reporting on annual events like county fairs. For example: From 2007-17 they could report 10 years of the fair and sometimes neglect to mention it is the 11th annual fair, not 10.

      So, if Apple named their phones like model years, 2018 would be iPhone 12, not XR, XS and XS Max which is inadequate as MDN pointed out, suggests an incremental update year. Just a thought …

        1. Good question. Recall not too long ago, MDN proposed a suggestion in their take that I agreed with and my only suggestion was to add a year.

          Reason being, for the math example mentioned above, to add clarity because Apple does not make it easy and consistent to follow particularly in the S years and they skipped 9. Wish I could remember specifics.

          Auto industry uses three criteria and so do insurance companies: Year, make and model. Year 2018, make iPhone, model needs to be determined, but screen size number would be exact or tee shirt clothing sizes S, M, L…

  1. Just bought an iPhone Xs. I have no problems with existing naming/numbering conventions (iPad anyone?). To me, it’s all about the hardware and software. On that front, there’s no better phone currently on the market.

    1. I concur, this constant ridiculous angst over how iPhones are named is just dumb. There is NO naming convention that will make everyone happy.

      Seems MDN that just cannot get over the fact Apple never listens to them, boo hoo…

      Its the hardware and functionality stupid..

  2. Back in 2009, the ‘S” stood for “speed.” That was under Steve’s watch. Maybe there was some logic to it then. But whatever there was has long since been lost in the dustbin of history. How many iPhone users today even remember the 3GS? And the “speed” designation is meaningless now.

    1. They may need to come up with a naming scheme which allows new models with different feature sets, with the less expensive one (the XR) in the middle, between two more fully featured phones. That could be kind of tricky. But if someonecomes up with a good idea, we could all bombard Phil with emails suggesting the new scheme for next year and going forward.

  3. S


    Apple’s idiot product planning team has continued to be an embarrassing caricature of inconsistency and bad timing, as it has been for many years. Jobs wasn’t perfect, but with Macs he mostly got it right. He offered a much more logical and consistent product portfolio, with clear product lines. He kept them up to date too.

    Those days of being intuitive and simple and fresh are long gone. With each emerging product line, Apple’s naming convention makes less and less sense; the iterations (if Apple ever bothers to update the hardware) are illogically named and priced. For example, the late MacBook Air was so old that the MacBook and MacBook Pros that succeeded it became thinner and lighter — which completely undermines the meaning of the term “Air”. Same with iPads. Apple has lost its ability to be simple and intuitive.

  4. Hang on Apple has been doing ads like that for donkeys years it’s sim,y that every two bit competitor is copying them, a bit rich, though not the first time to accuse the company of copying a copier of itself. That’s as stupid as the stupid naming itself.

  5. Apple’s current name scheme is silly and not worthy of a company that does amazing things.

    I like the way they’ve started naming OS releases by place names, such as High Sierra and Mojave.

    Something like that would appeal to a lot of iPhone users.

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