A report recently surfaced claiming that Apple (AAPL -2.12%) may call its next-generation iPhone, widely believed to be called the iPhone 7, the "iPhone 6SE."
Here's why this report, which comes from Apfelpage.de (via 9to5Mac), seems unlikely to be true.
A marketing nightmare
The iPhone 6s didn't perform particularly well in the marketplace. During its cycle, Apple has seemingly lost market segment share to its rivals and saw its first-ever declines in iPhone unit and revenue shipments year over year.
Apple blamed the year-over-year decline essentially on tough comparisons to the prior cycle, but that alone doesn't explain the market share loss. Clearly, Apple's marketing team failed to determine what features/technologies would be required to keep pace in the marketplace.
If Apple were to name its next-generation iPhone family the iPhone 6SE, this would send a pretty negative message to consumers. In particular, it would say to them that this new iPhone isn't much of an improvement over the prior-generation iPhone 6s series, potentially leading to muted upgrade activity.
In fact, with a name like the iPhone 6SE, not only would iPhone 6s owners be hard-pressed to upgrade, but average iPhone 6 users -- likely folks who don't follow the nitty-gritty details of each iPhone launch -- might think that the latest phone isn't much improved over what they already have.
That's not exactly the message that Apple can afford to send to customers with the coming product cycle -- at least not if it wants to have a reasonable shot at stabilizing/growing iPhone revenues after a rough fiscal year.
Another reason that this naming would be disastrous
Apple's chief rival in many respects is Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF). The iPhone and iPhone Plus models generally compete with Samsung's Galaxy S/Galaxy S Edge/Galaxy Note family of products.
Unlike Apple, which has introduced "new number" phones in one year and "s" variants of those phones in the next, the Galaxy S phone series sees "new numbers" each year. In 2016, Samsung released the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, and is on track to release the Galaxy Note 7 (skipping the Galaxy Note 6 entirely).
If Apple were to release the iPhone 6SE this year, not only would Apple's fall release be behind in numbering relative to Samsung's latest (this may seem trivial, but marketing/perception is quite important), but Samsung would pull further ahead with the spring launch of the Galaxy S8.
Apple really wouldn't have a good time trying to market an "iPhone 6SE" against a "Galaxy S8."
iPhone 7s much more likely than iPhone 6SE this year
As I argued in a previous column, it could be in Apple's best interests to call the next-generation iPhone the iPhone 7s rather than merely the iPhone 7. Such a naming scheme would allow Apple to play up the improvements in going from the iPhone 6s to the next phone.
The following iPhone could be called the iPhone 8 and then going forward, the company could eliminate the "s" models altogether, instead moving to new numbers from that point on. This would help Apple stay competitive with Samsung from a marketing/branding perspective.