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Apple’s iPhone Naming Schemes (An Analysis)

iphone naming scheme

For those who have watched the iPhone evolution closely over the years, you’ll have a clear understanding of the company’s phone-naming terminology. It was a no-brainer to predict the next iPhone lineup.

However, things got confusing with the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Apple had to skip the iPhone 9 and go straight to iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) to celebrate a decade milestone of the most popular gadget on earth.

Since then, Apple’s new iPhone names are a confusing mess. At last year Apple’s Special Event, Tim Cook introduced the iPhone XS, XS Max, and the low-priced iPhone XR. And this year, the company took a similar approach with a minimal trick, they announced the iPhone 11, which is the iPhone XR successor, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Now it’s totally complicated and consumers are getting confused.

Declining iPhone sales got Apple rethinking its whole iPhone nomenclature.

Confusing iPhone Naming Scheme

In fact, someone saw my tiny iPhone SE and was convinced that it was an iPhone 5. So I took it off the case and showed him the name from the back of the phone. He was still confused because in the back of his mind this form factor belongs to the iPhone 5.

He was right, Apple got everybody confused with its new naming conventions. It made it impossible for average consumers to keep track of and understand why they’re significant upgrades. And it comes down that poor iPhone sales have a lot to see with Apple ruining its numbered iPhone naming convention.

There’s no arguing that the Cupertino, California-based company is gradually shifting its business model. Apple has become more a services and media company than a hardware company as it has long been the core component of the company’s business. Every fiscal quarter the giant tech was generating billions of dollars in revenue from iPhone sales. But things are starting to change regarding iPhone growth revenue.

An iPhone was always a synonym for a premium product, which of course comes with a premium price. In 2007, the original iPhone started at $499 without a contract, and twelve years later, in 2019 the iPhone 11 costs $699.

If we adjust the original iPhone price for inflation, it will cost about the same as the iPhone 11. How on earth did Apple get there? Smartphone market saturation and iPhone exorbitant price are the main reasons why iPhone sales are in decline.

Numbered iPhone naming was for revamped models.

Apple’s first attempt to grow its market share was when the company introduced its first mysterious name, the iPhone 5C, which was the first time Apple started to segment its iPhone lineup. It was a smart move for Apple, so it could avoid selling old outdated iPhones to cover the mid-segment of the market.

Whether it’s colorful, cheap, or choice, nobody really knew what the “C” stood for, and Apple got its first major naming dilemma. Anyway, the iPhone 5C was a failure because its price point wasn’t low enough to penetrate emerging smartphone markets.

Apple introduced the “S” lineup as a refinement version for iPhones that were completely redesigned. The iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPhone 6 all have their successors named with the “S” naming scheme. Regular folks will have a hard time seeing and appreciate the difference between a regular iPhone model and an “S” model.

The “Plus” nomenclature, on the other hand, was born because larger handsets were rapidly growing in popularity thanks to Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones. Apple couldn’t help but seize the opportunity to increase its market share, and then over the years, Apple introduced the iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus.

The “S” version was for refined models.

Apple took another shot at burgeoning markets like China and India with the introduction of the iPhone SE in 2016. This was one of the most confusing names Apple has ever named an iPhone. Tim Cook announced it at an unusual date the same year as the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

The iPhone SE will be forever reminded as the iPhone 5, especially for regular consumers. Apple decided to call it iPhone SE, which “SE” apparently stood for Special Edition, to maintain iPhone margin.

In a time where iPhone sales keep declining on a yearly basis, the tech giant understands more than ever that it has to break into emerging markets in one way or another. Despite the company is aware that’s a tough fight to take on because companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus are dominating those markets with competitive high-end smartphones at a really affordable price.

That didn’t stop Apple from trying and this is where iPhone nomenclature started getting really messy. After Apple discontinued the iPhone X just a year since it was released, Tim Cook announced three new iPhones in 2018: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max. Apple is Apple, they have the luxury to do whatever they want and still get away with it. Let’s take a closer look at these bizarre names.

Number-based Naming Convention

Annual iPhone naming has been and will always be the easiest way for average consumers to differentiate iPhone models when it comes to buying a new smartphone.

Apple knows that the iPhone has reached its peak of innovation, the smartphone market is saturated, most people cannot afford its products anymore, the only viable strategy left for Apple is to diversify its portfolio and invest more in services. And diversifying its iPhone lineup is what got Apple’s smartphone nomenclature totally messed up.

The iPhone XR is one of Apple’s unsuccessful attempts to offer a budget iPhone for the mass market. The iPhone XS is the iPhone X successor and the iPhone XS Plus is targeting consumers who love larger displays.

This time the “R” and “S” didn’t stand for anything, despite people think they stand for “Retina” and “Super Retina”. It was only for marketing purposes, and Apple has learned one fundamental thing from the iPhone XR, which again has created this weird nomenclature this year.

The iPhone XR has fallen far short of Apple’s expectations, the company had to come up with unusual promo and marketing strategies. It turned out the majority of iPhone users don’t want a cheap iPhone with fewer features, and early adopters will generally go towards the iPhone XS and XS Max. Additionally, the iPhone XR is not fancy and low-priced enough to appeal to conscious-budget buyers.

Don’t be fooled, the iPhone 11 is Apple’s budget iPhone, not the real deal.

This led to the American tech juggernaut making one more twist to the iPhone nomenclature. Apparently, Apple has dropped the “S” cycle for now. The successor of the iPhone XR is not iPhone XRS, it’s just iPhone 11 because Apple wants it to be the center of its iPhone line-up, leaving the “Pro” variants to pro consumers.

For the first time in the iPhone history, the standard model starts with a mid-range smartphone price. With the iPhone 11 retailing at just $699, consumers will think that Apple finally introduced an iPhone with a low-price point, which is obviously not the case.

The iPhone 11 is clearly the iPhone XR successor, the iPhone 11 Pro is supposed to be the iPhone 11, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the version with a larger display. Since Apple already used the “S” nomenclature on last year’s iPhone models, it would not make sense for the company to use it again this year, despite the new iPhones keep the same design form factor. By rebranding the budget iPhone as iPhone 11 and retailing it at $699, Apple has adopted a new marketing strategy to appeal to the mass.

It seems like Apple will drop the “S” branding for the years to come. Next year, the new iPhones will get an overhaul, Apple will probably follow the existing pattern to denote a major cosmetic change. So, the next iPhones will most likely be called: iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

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