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The Next iPhone Is a Naming Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

The Next iPhone Is a Naming Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

Apple may have a problem if it introduces two "top of the line" iPhones. It has made consumer tech history by giving products names people can easily understand and say. It doesn't name its products with esoteric model numbers. Ever. Magic Mouse. iPod touch. iPod nano. Apple TV. Apple has to come up with a simple solution that will make intuitive sense to most consumers.

By Chris Maxcer
06/27/14 7:11 AM PT

As I look forward to the likely September launch of the next iPhone, I can't help but wonder how the heck Apple is going to name its new lineup. Make no mistake, the naming scheme for the iPhone is due for a change. Last year, the shakeup was two form factors that introduced the plastic body of the iPhone 5c with the clear flagship iPhone 5s model.

With the next iPhone, the top-of-line iPhone model won't be clear to consumers at all. As it turned out, last year's sales showed that the majority of Apple's consumers made a beeline for Apple's best iPhone at the time, the iPhone 5s.

It's rumored Apple will break from tradition by introducing the next iPhone in two new screen sizes -- 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches.

Once you tilt your head at the numbers here and imagine two new iPhones, how will Apple name them? In Appleland, smaller always costs less, while bigger always costs more. That's intuitive enough for consumers -- but with the new iPhone, will bigger actually be better?

I can't imagine that Apple would call the lower-priced option an iPhone 6c (never mind that the rumored photos don't appear to include plastic).

I can't help but explore how all this might shake out. It's just too much fun for an Apple enthusiast to ignore.

Looming Disaster?

Any way I look at it, the next iPhone has to generate a naming diversion. The iPhone 5s was a refinement of the iPhone 5. So using an iPhone "6s" moniker to describe the bigger 5.5-inch iPhone would be odd, since there's no iPhone 6 to refine -- yet.

Let's take a cue from the iPad Air and the iPad mini.

The iPad Air is the largest iPad, with the very latest A7 processor. Nice. It's big but light. The smaller version is the iPad mini, and it really is a mini iPad Air. The processor is the same -- and get this, the pixels on the screen have the same number and ratio, too.

What's astounding is that Apple created two radically differently sized devices with nearly the same processing power and features, including the cameras. All the same. Amazing feat of engineering.

I expect that Apple would also do this with two models of the next iPhone, but would Apple ever call the smaller of two iPhones the iPhone mini? No way. I can't see it. Especially since the smaller 4.7-inch model will be the unit the vast majority of Apple consumers will choose. So "mini" connected to a flagship iPhone? No way.

Apple could call the bigger 5.5-inch iPhone the iPhone Air, to make it seem like the bigger iPad Air... Uh, no, that becomes counterintuitive to consumers -- the bigger iPhone is the "Air" model? How is it lighter than the other iPhone? The iPad Air only made sense because it was an evolutionary shift from the heavier iPad that came before it.

Because the "mini" is acceptable on the little iPad, the iPad Air and iPad mini naming scheme will fly forever just fine. If anyone is going to buy an iPhone mini, it better be freaking tiny for them to like it.

It just doesn't work with two important new iPhones introduced at the same time.

What About the MacBook Pro Naming Scheme?

Why not add a "Pro" to the bigger-is-better 5.5-inch iPhone 6? It could be the "iPhone 6 Pro." That also doesn't work, because it implies that you have to have a behemoth phablet in order to get the very best Apple smartphone. Apple would not be that dumb.

That leaves the key description for the iPhone 6 models to rely on size. The MacBook Pro 13 has a screen that is actually 13.3 inches while the MacBook Pro 15 has a screen that is 15.4 inches. Apple rounds down. Furthermore, the 15-inch MacBook Pro also has a faster processor, more memory, and better storage options. It's the more "Pro" of the two sizes.

This has worked out well enough for a powerhouse laptop, but will it transfer to a smartphone? At worldwide scale of iPhone chatter and mindshare? I have a hard time believing that Apple will jam a better processor into a bigger model in this situation.

As for naming, how does "iPhone 6 4.7" roll off your tongue?

Apple has made consumer tech history by giving products names people can easily understand and say. It doesn't name its products with esoteric model numbers. Ever. Magic Mouse. iPod touch. iPod nano. Apple TV.

Apple has to come up with a simple solution that will make intuitive sense to most consumers. Brand and product recognition are key to Apple. My best guess is that Apple will keep it simple. The 4.7-incher will simply be the "iPhone 6." It will be the lead model. The variants, like the 5.5-incher, will get another letter. Which letter? I have no idea.

Meanwhile, that would allow Apple to continue to offer an iPhone 6c if it wanted to continue its entry-level line.

With such a frenzy of scrutiny around the world on Apple products -- heck, the various rumor photos seem pretty real -- I'm starting to wonder if the new iPhone name might be the last secret to fall as we march toward September. I hope it's a pleasant surprise.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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