Former Apple ad man thinks the iPhone's naming convention needs to change

Does Apple's naming scheme for iPhone need to change?

Since 2008 Apple has introduced a new iPhone design one year and then followed it up with an S-variant the next. iPhone 3G was followed by iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 was followed by iPhone 4S. It's gotten to the point where many people are already assuming the next iPhone will be the iPhone 5s. Almost a month ago Rene wrote an article examining whether this iPhone 5s assumption could become a problem for Apple, and pointed out some ways Apple might already be moving to solve that problem. Now Apple's former ad guru, Ken Segall -- who was responsible for naming the iMac -- has shared some of his own thoughts on the matter:

More important, tacking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our “off-year” product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise.

I've talked to a lot of people who say they wait for the new model, or they wait for the S upgrade, but don't buy both. Is that really a problem, though? Is there any evidence to suggest Apple really intends for most people to buy every model, rather than just the next new model after their (typically 2 year) contract expires? If you go from iPhone 4 to iPhone 5, or iPhone 4S to iPhone 5s, what exactly is Apple losing out on?

Source: Ken Segall

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Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

Former Apple ad man thinks the iPhone's naming convention needs to change


I'd love to see Apple make all those self-proclaimed 'expert analysts' collectively lose control of their digestive byproduct when Apple shows off what at first glance is a retina iPad-Mini... and at the end, toss in, "oh, by the way, it's a phone too". :) The iPhone-SuperMax.

No way man. It's worked this long and why change something that works. Plus, the 'S' has always stood for something. With the 3GS-it was Speed and with the 5S-it was Siri. It will be interesting to see what the 5S stands for!

I doubt most consumers know that the S stood for Speed and Siri in their respective release years. I believe they are widely seen as 'off-year' releases. Siri is also, in all honesty, a failure as a major feature imo.

Add me to the list of tech-minded people that didn't know that the "S" actually stood for something. I don't think that it is a big deal. If possible I try and get the S model, since it seems at first glance to be a better model, but I think that like most people, they just buy what they want to buy when the upgrade is available.

Siri can be frustrating, comical and occasionally obtuse but I use it almost every day. Reminders, maps, movies, quick web searches. It's huge for me.

It's true. Since cell contracts are two years, since I went from the iPhone to the iPhone 3G, then tried Android, was over that idea very fast, and got an iPhone 3GS, and I've been on the "S" cycle since. I skipped the 4, and got the 4S. Skipped the 5, and will likely get whatever's new this year, once I can get a fully subsidized phone.

I don't mind not having a major upgrade every's a tick tock battle rhythm that I'm used to. Still, I like being on the S cycle, as they tend to work out bugs from the previous model and represents the best of that form factor.

I was just considering that as well because i know they're people who come in on the "s" cycle and unless they absolutely must have the latest and greatest they usually hold out until the next "s" device is released.

I think that the "s" upgrades have only been incremental. Looking back at the 3gs, and 4s the true upgrades seem to be when they release a new number i.e. 4, and 5. I was planning on getting the 5 since i currently have a 4 but after messing around and playing with a few of my friends, the speed bump, be it a large one is not enough to entice me to get one. Hopefully the 5s or whatever they decide to call it will bring something new to the table because at this point i have been satisfied with the os and would really only upgrade if the os was refreshed or it had some must have feature which i surely wont get with the iphone 4.

I think the 4S upgrade was a big deal...Siri, fixed the overblown but real antenna problem...I'm sure there were more but don't have a list in front of me. The 3GS was a significant upgrade from the 3G in terms of performance too.

All of the updates to every iPhone since the very first one have been incremental regardless of what they called it that particular year. They have all been "true upgrades" whether the form factor changed or not.

Who cares what version number is used? Someone will go into a store and ask for the newest iPhone.

People will buy it no matter what they call it.

I like the naming strategy. I like consistency and predictability. People would be upset if apple released multiple models throughout the year making the previous, fantastic phone, obsolete. That is a big hit on Android phones.
Also, I feel that Apple does not need to release a cheaper iPhone. They currently sell previous editions of the iPhone along side the flagship for that year at a lower cost which helps with market share. The 5, 4s, and the 4 are all among the best selling phones the past few quarters.
I understand that some feel if the phone doesn't look different or have a different name/higher version number it can't be better but we know better and we know future change will focus more on software rather than hardware. Just ask Samsung or look at how similar the s3 and s4 look.

It reminds me of the banned iPhone 5 commercial (Parody) that they did when they made fun of the iPhone 5 being the 6th phone and that they already have the 9 and hopefully will have the naming scheme figured out by the time they release it.

I can see how people would think this, especially people who don't read blogs and worry about internal specs. The "S" updates do not bring any cosmetic changes and people are very visual so that make sense. My first iPhone was a 4S (even though I owned and iPad for some time). I could have upgraded to the 4 half way through the release cycle but decided to wait. The 4s for me was every bit worth the wait because of the processor bump and better camera. My wife, who could care less about specs, got a 4 because it was an iPhone and it was good enough for her. When i got the 5 and she got my 4s, she noticed that it was faster and the camera was better but not until i asked her directly about it. If Apple is going to drop the "S's" they may have to consider some cosmetic differences too so that people will visually see change even though most never look more than skin deep.

The new iPad was a bad name. Third party companies have been calling it the iPad 3 for a time now. "Our case fits the iPad 2,3,and 4" you hardly hear the new iPad anymore. I do not think Apple will call it The new iPhone. I believe they will just do what they always have done, and it will be the 5S. I could be wrong, but like others have said, no matter what it is called, people will buy it, and more so if your current iPhone is no longer supported with iOS updates. Logic dictates that at some point there will be no more numbering. iPhone 9 or 35 makes no sense. The phone itself will be iPhone with the year stamped on the back of the case, and box.

I think Apple should remove the "S" designations for the very reason Ken Segall stated. I've thought they were tacky since the 3GS, regardless of it's meaning. I know it can be argued otherwise, but I feel that, starting with the 4S, they should have sequentially numbered the iPhone with "5". That would make the iPhone in my pocket the "6", because (regardless of its "actual" placement in the generation line) it is, in fact, Apple's sixth iPhone. They could use the following slogan for WWDC 2013: "Let's drop the S". And that could relate to a number of topics: A) drop the "S" designation, B) drop all the useless skeuomorphism, and C) completely separate themselves from the pack (read: Android copycats) by blowing us away with a brand new hardware/software design for the iPhone 6 (or 7 if I had my druthers).

Truth be told, I'm not a fan of the numbering system with the iPhone, anyway. They dropped the numbering on the iPad, and I feel they should do the same with the iPhone. Not to mention, each of the products in the rest of Apple's product line (save for MagSafe 2) are merely separated by their respective generational designation.

--Looks like Rene has implanted the word "skeuomorphism" in a lot of people's minds with that article a few months back (I never used the word much before that either, so not an insult to you)
--while I disagree with your "drop the S" thoughts....bravo on a well thought out comment with good points being made

I say skip the "s" and give us the 6. We NEED the iPhone 6 with larger screen already! A radical hardware design update should launch annually as the new product cycle in consumer tech continues to shorten.

Not true when you look at other brands dropping multiple device models within a year. We get one iPhone once a year. That's why I think we should be getting a radical update annually.

People freaked out with the short release cycle of the last few would be even worse if they did it with iPhones (even if it isn't something to freak out about AT ALL)

I agree with the sentiment that the S releases tend to come across as the "off year" phone, even to those who don't care that much about specs. I personally started on the iPhone 4 because I couldn't afford the 4S. I would like to see a change in the naming cycle, just so it's not as predictable and doesn't attach a social prejudice to it.

What "social prejudice"?? The "s" series has looked like its predecessor in terms of the outer hardware, so unless someone else actually uses your phone, they would be none the wiser that you have the last gen model. I seem to remember with either the 3GS or the 4S release some people were actually complaining that nobody would know they upgraded their phone bc it looked so similar to the last model (as ridiculous as that is). So I'm lost on the "social prejudice" statement you made, maybe I just misinterpreted it.

I was sorta hoping apple would skip the (S) this time and give us something new ? I would love to see a new form factor phone this year BUT i am starting to think it will just be a S varient again.
But if it is only a minor update then this year i am gonna give it a miss and stay with the iphone 5 until next year when we should have a proper overall.

Personally I don't care about naming at all. What bothers me are features. I went from a windows mobile phone to the iPhone 4 because of the retina screen. Since then, I'm eagerly waiting for a decisive addition to that setup to change. What drives me crazy is that I might be pushed to change because I see mire ANC more apps or games telling me they need Siri or better graphic oomph to install. Geez I really hope the next two phones will worth the wait, whatever they are called.

Had I been given the opportunity, I would have upgraded to the 5 on launch day. But, since AT&T didn't offer any early upgrade options, I felt the need to wait until my upgrade eligibility hit instead of paying the additional $250. I believe I'll be eligible for an upgrade soon, but honestly, I've been extremely happy with my 4S. For me it is the perfect phone in just about every way. I'm not going to buy the 5 as soon as I am eligible, and I guess I'll see what the next version of the phone will be before making the decision what to buy.

The "s" in 3GS stood for speed! Then the "s" stood for Siri in the 4s, so now the iPhone 5s will fall along something like this. The "s" will stand for Seven, as in ios7 and or a new apple A7 processor to power the new revamped ios7 that is gonna come out. Something to think about!!!

I personally don't like the S series. It seems like it's the off cast. Why not just release a brand new model. While I may be off base, it seems like they simply want to save money by using the same "casing" with a new processor and camera. I know its hard to innovate at the moment, due to battery limitations, but it dashes my hopes of something great. If I'm looking for a removable battery, or double battery size..I know to never really expect it on a S version.

Why do people need a new form factor every year, especially when you have a lot of people on 2 year contracts? I'm sure it's not cheap to constantly update manufacturing for new form factors and manufacturing processes. And even though the 5 might have a similar form factor to the 4 it was completely redesigned. The 4 was glass and stainless steel. The 5 is aluminum and glass with chamfered edges. Apple shouldn't retool their product line every year just because someone needs their itch scratched.

Also what does the S generation have to do with removable battery? Neither the iPhone 4 or 5 had user removable battery.

It's better for anyone who buys, or produces, or sells accessories not to change the case every year, and that support system and choice around the iPhone is a big part of its appeal.

He has some good points, but I think apple is doing what works best for the company. I'm sure there is a strategy behind the naming.

everyone on here is really over thinkin it for all "s" meant is for speed .....some ppl shouldnt have a smart phone smh

It's easy to see why Apple has the "S" moniker for their products, and something that makes sense for them. It sets expectations that we shouldn't expect any major leaps from them on the hardware front, and dials back pressure from them to have to constantly innovate every year. The S models will always have their place as a refinement of what came the year before, so for those who want the best interpretation of the newest hardware, go for the S models. And for those who want the latest and greatest, go for the iPhone that moves a number.

You guys just don't get it. That's what makes Apple so successful. I'm an Apple fan and I love how they update every 6 months to a year. It keeps me and other customers on edge. They know how to suck you in, release a couple of new features and sit back and watch their product work for them. If you notice from 4 to 4S it was Siri and the next chip A5 I believe. That's it. That was enough for customers to say wow! I have to get the 4s. Same with 5. A taller screen and a "faster" chip. Customers said wow! Big screen! "faster" chip! It's a must have. Notice the pattern??? Unlike Android, Apple keeps the customer wanting the next special feature even though Apple is a bit behind. Android discontinues their then "first of it's kind" model after two years. No support, no warranty, no updates. Then they just come out with a totally new different phone, specs and all. Android phones and specs are a lot further ahead then Apple. Apple just knows their customers and they know how to keep us on edge.

They should just go like all other Apple products: name it iPhone (or the New iPhone), period. No number.

I agree that the tick-tock naming convention of # and #S is not beneficial. Even dropping the numeral would be a good idea and stronger for the brand. Just keep the model number but not as a part of the official name, like when the "cat" names were unofficial for Mac OS X versions.