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.