Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) naming conventions for its most important product have been devolving for years, thanks to alternating between numerical successions and "s" appendages. The company made a rare move last year by keeping the same overall design for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, making it unclear whether the 2017 iPhone would be called the iPhone 7s, iPhone 8, or something different altogether like iPhone Edition.
This year is also notable because it will be the 10th-generation iPhone, which could represent an opportunity for Apple to finally transition away from its numerical scheme and toward something more sustainable from a branding perspective. It only gets worse over time: If Apple theoretically continued on this branding path for another decade, the 20th-generation iPhone released in 2027 would be the nonsensical iPhone 12s.
Don't just take my word for it. Apple's former ad man, Ken Segall, who came up with the famous iMac name two decades ago, thinks we're approaching what he considers "The Great iPhone Naming Opportunity of 2017."
Don't waste it, Apple
Segall considers the "s" branding a "perfect example of a company shooting itself in the marketing foot." Apple has created an advertising hurdle for itself, where it needs to justify to customers why they should buy an "s" model when a fully redesigned model with more meaningful improvements can be expected the following year.
As the iPhone family has expanded over the years to cater to a diverse range of consumer preferences, most notably including larger displays, iPhone branding has become needlessly complex. Segall is a big fan of simplicity, particularly in the context of marketing. He wrote both Insanely Simple (which focuses on Apple's obsession with simplicity) and Think Simple (which applies the same lessons to a broader set of companies). If Apple ends up using some confusing combination of 7s, 7s Plus, 8, and SE later this year, Segall makes a damning comparison: "[T]he naming will feel more like Toshiba than Apple."
For example, Segall considers the possibility that Apple streamlines the branding under "iPhone 8," and releases a standard model, a larger "iPhone 8 Plus," a more powerful "iPhone 8 Pro," and a smaller "iPhone 8 Mini." It'd be even better if you drop the number. This isn't the first time this notion has been tossed around; many considered the possibility of an iPhone Air years ago, although Apple seems to be moving away from the Air brand in general, recently rebranding the iPad Air as just the iPad and the new MacBook looks set to supplant the aging MacBook Air eventually.
The 10th-generation iPhone is the perfect opportunity for Apple to reset its branding strategy, and set it on a long-term course toward a simpler naming scheme. Apple should streamline its iPhone branding to be similar to the Mac: distinct, descriptive modifiers like "Pro" and "Mini" with product cycles represented by years. Consider "iPhone Pro (2021)" or "iPhone Mini (2019)" as examples. It's immediately obvious for consumers what they're buying, and that simplicity would go a long way.