Apple's Mistake: Not Naming It iPhone 5

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The first rule of business is to give your customers what they want. The second rule is don't insult your friends in the media. On Tuesday, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) broke both rules.

What happened? Apple didn't deliver the much-ballyhooed iPhone 5. Instead it came out with an improved device that it had the gall to call ... iPhone 4S.

Yes, iPhone 4S.

This thwarting of the number line was a mistake for two reasons.

One, the media was expecting to hail a device called iPhone 5. Talk of "Let's Talk iPhone" was all over the Web and "iPhone 5" was all over television. The announcement was so anticlimactic that bloggers felt cheated and wrote tons of nasty stuff about it.

Two, customers felt similarly cheated. How am I, a loyal Apple customer, supposed to brag to my iPhone 4 friends about a spanking new "IPhone 4S"? That seems so lame. At least if it was called iPhone 5 I could be all nonchalant and like, "Hey dudes, in case you haven't seen one, here's an iPhone 5." But the 4S moniker is a total buzzkill. Customers wanted iPhone 5, but didn't get it.

It's not about features!
The utter ridiculousness is that Apple could have just called the 4S the iPhone 5. No one would have cared. It's not like the iPad 2 was really that different from the iPad, besides a faster CPU (sound familiar?), and yet the media and customers ate it up. And Suri -- which uses voice recognition from Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN  ) -- seems like a real feature to me.

But Apple's naming department didn't seem to realize what most of the media and its customers subconsciously know. It's not about features.

It's about status. It's about image. It's about cool. It's about style. All things Apple competitors Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) have struggled at. That doesn't mean Apple can neglect features in the long run, but competitors have been so disappointing as of late that Apple can take a breather with the iPhone 4S.

So cheer up Apple. the next time you have to introduce a lackluster product, puff up your chest, look into the camera, smile confidently, and call it iPhone 6. And they will be yours...

.... well, until Amazon's Jeff Bezos makes a phone. But that's another story.

Click here to read "Steve Jobs: Tribute to a Visionary" by Fool contributor Evan Niu.

Fool contributor Chris Baines is a value investor. Follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @askchrisbainesChris' stock picks and pans have outperformed 89% of players on CAPS. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Research In Motion, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Nuance Communications, Amazon, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2011, at 12:09 PM, aeosfool wrote:

    The fact that the model two years ago was called the iphone 3gs did not stop many more people to by it than the iphone 3 closed.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2011, at 12:25 PM, deemery wrote:

    The iPad 2 has a different body shape. The iPhone 3 and 3GS have the same case shape, as do the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. If nothing else, this helps the 3rd party/aftermarket people, as a case for an iPhone 4 works for all models of the iPhone 4, but a case for an iPad doesn't fit an iPad 2.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2011, at 12:44 PM, 123spot wrote:

    Boy, have you missed the proverbial boat. These elegant designs where form and function marry are not about " image" or "cool". You have confused cause and effect. Name is irrelevant; remember the Bard " a rose by any other name...". One more thing, I did enjoy the idea of one SA member that 4S means " For Steve". Regards, Spot

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2011, at 1:44 PM, Idzyn wrote:

    Calling it "iPhone 5" would have been an insult to the iPhone 5. When the iPhone 5 does come out it will likely follow previous releases and be a major update to the form factor of the device. This is just a faster iPhone 4, basically, and doesn't deserve an iPhone 5 title. That doesn't mean it's not an upgrade though. When I upgraded from iPhone 3 to iPhone 3Gs there was a very noticeable performance increase in the phone. There is no question it is a valuable upgrade, and from the marketing standpoint, all of that iPhone 5 demand that you are writing about stays all pent up and full of energy for next year's iPhone 5 release. The only reason people are upset about "no iPhone 5" is because they are excited about what the iPhone 5 might be. Apple are masters of holding back the technology and drawing out demand like that. It's maddening as a consumer, but I think it works very well. My iPhone 4 will definitely be replaced by a 4s, which will then be replaced by a 5. And I can't wait.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2011, at 10:44 AM, megoldmd wrote:

    The road map is clear 3, 3s, 4, 4s, 5, contracts are for two years and it does not make sense to change the form factor every year. Upgrade the features yes but change the form factor for a successful product (lots of risk for little gain, sounds foolish to me).

    So next Sept we will not be upset when expect a iphone 5 and get a iphone 5.

  • Report this Comment On October 08, 2011, at 9:56 AM, jargonsays wrote:

    This whole debate is irrelevant to consumers, Apple's medium to long term profits and the AAPL share price. Get over it and talk about something real until the new iphone can be tested by actual real human beings.

  • Report this Comment On October 08, 2011, at 3:02 PM, rogerrobie68 wrote:

    Media's Mistake: Calling it the iPhone 5

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 6:52 PM, andrispone wrote:

    Chris, I'm going to be the odd man out here and agree with you. Your core argument, that consumers and the media were expecting a iPhone 5 and didn't get it, is clearly valid.

    Apple should have either 1.prepared everyone for a phone called 4S or 2.called the thing a 5, for which there seems to be precedent (ie moving up a full number even though the improvements are not that big).

    It was irresponsible of Apple's investor relations people not to ensure that one of the above occured. Yes, the stock has more than recovered from its post-announcement dip - but what should bother shareholders is that the risk incurred through insufficient expectations management was taken at all.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2011, at 12:04 PM, Gardner85 wrote:

    Wow! I am glad this idiot starts off this article with business advice to the richest and most successful company on the planet for the last decade. Then closes article with a flop company that can barely get their tablets out the door after having dropped their prices on them 3 consecutive times just to get them in the hands of people that will eventually but an iPad anyways. Oh yes, and to Apple the company that has started the media revolution with its cutting edge ads and products should just conform at the last moment to what the media wants. Yeah, that is why they have sold more iPhone 4Ss than any other iPhone to date in its opening weekend and any other phone by a long shot. Where do you get these idiots that write these articles, have they been in the real world, have they looked at a companies financial statement. Chris your an idiot and to think you are giving financial is an eyesore for the company.

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