It turns out we may have been over-thinking it.
If the invite sent out this morning by Apple is any indication, the next iPhone is likely to be called the “iPhone 5″. No, it doesn’t technically make sense — it is the sixth iteration of the iPhone — and yet, at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world. It’s the iPhone 5 because that’s what everyone is calling it. Sometimes it is that simple.
Horace Dediu dove into Apple’s naming conventions earlier and lays out an argument that Apple may stick with the generational naming because there will be no iPhone sub-brand. This is in contrast to the iPad, which started out with generational naming — hence, “iPad 2″ — and then reverted back to simply “the new iPad” with the latest iteration. The thinking there is that because Apple is gearing up to release another version of the iPad, the so-called “iPad mini”, there was a need to streamline the top-level product.
I’m just not sure it’s that complicated. It seems to me that Apple is less calculated when it comes to these decisions — which itself is a bit odd because Apple seems calculated in just about everything else it does. I believe that sometimes the company simply goes with what sounds right at the time. Sometimes at the last minute. Remember the iPhone 3GS? Remember how it started as the “iPhone 3G S” — yes, with the space — before Apple later changed it?
And while it’s speculation at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some debate quite recently as to whether or not to call this next iPhone the “iPhone 5″ or follow in the iPad’s footsteps and simply go with “the new iPhone”. With only a week until the unveiling, I’m sure they’ve made the call by now, but a few sources still weren’t sure which way it would go.
“The new iPhone” has been the sexy pick for months amongst those who closely watch Apple. And again, given Apple’s other product lines and the new iPad, it makes sense. And it certainly seems to make more sense than “iPhone 5″, because of the generational misalignment. But I’m just not sure Apple is looking at it that deeply.
The move to “the new iPad” has been confusing. I’ve been asked more than a few times by friends and relatives who don’t follow technology as closely if the iPad 2 is actually newer than the new iPad. Numbers don’t lie, after all — except when they do. “2” is greater than no number, but the $399 price of the iPad 2 directly contradicts this notion since the new iPad starts at $499. For the average consumer, this is confusing.
Yes, it’s a temporary confusion, since it only matters until the iPad 2 goes out of circulation (which could be as soon as this fall with the launch of the iPad mini). But I’m not sure it’s something Apple wants to deal with again, to a much larger extent, with the iPhone — the product responsible for just about half of its revenue.
You can imagine the conversations: Yes, the “new iPhone” is better than the iPhone 4S, which is better than the iPhone 4. Yes, even though it doesn’t have a number.
“Just look at the price” is not a good argument.
Meanwhile, amongst average consumers, the “iPhone 5″ would be a natural transition. It has been the presumed name for two years now, since Apple threw a not-so-curveball with the “iPhone 4S” last year. Some people have been waiting for this mythical “iPhone 5″ all this time.
Further, it is certainly possible that Apple intends to follow the “iPhone X” and “iPhone XS” (“X” being some number) naming strategy going forward. This was the rational argument made in a MacRumors forum posting a few weeks ago. I’m still not completely sold, since Apple seems to change what the “S” stands for over time and depending on who you talk to. But it’s possible.
At the end of the day, the name Apple ultimately chooses is purely for marketing purposes. Look at the back of your current iPhone. What does it say? “iPhone”. That’s it. The same will be true with the next iPhone, I’m told.
The only time you see the actual name is when you plug it in to sync with iTunes (which you no longer have to do), and on the product box. (By the way, the box circulating around with “the new iPhone” engraving is clearly a fake: notice the since-excommunicated YouTube icon? Yeah. Also, the new iPad box simply reads “iPad”.) And, of course, in the commercials.
It’s marketing. As far as 99 percent of the rest of the company is concerned, it’s simply the iPhone.
So where does that leave us? Well, again, it seems clear from the invitation that Apple intends to call the device the “iPhone 5″. The “12” indicating the date of the event casting a “5” shadow is clever. But I still believe there is some wiggle room for Apple to hint at what’s coming without being stuck with the name necessarily (and I’m not the only one). We’ll see.
The point is that we’ve all been arguing semantics on something that ultimately comes down to marketing. Remember Ocean’s Twelve? It wasn’t the 12th film in the series, it simply followed Ocean’s Eleven. Maybe it’s best to think of it that way.
As an aside, while speaking of “11” — I’m perhaps most interested in the in-the-works for sometime now iTunes 11. Whispers have a team from Facebook in Cupertino, actively engaged in the ongoing development. That clearly seems to confirm the end of Ping, but also — hopefully — a completely reworked experience. Be warned: there have been many false-starts here. So it’s not clear if we’ll hear more next week, next month, or alas, next year.