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Apple Inc. Should Not Launch the iPhone 6

By Evan Niu, CFA - Jul 6, 2014 at 9:00AM

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Everyone is expecting Apple to launch the "iPhone 6" in a matter of months. However, the Mac maker should call it something else entirely.

iPhone 5s. Source: Apple.

These days, Apple (AAPL -0.23%) launches new iPhone models in September. The supply chain leaks surrounding the purported duo of devices continues to escalate. Investors have already taken to calling the device the "iPhone 6." Here's the thing: Apple shouldn't launch an "iPhone 6."

An iPhone by any other name would be just as fast
To be clear, Apple absolutely should and will launch the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models that have been widely leaked. Rather, it should transition away from using numerical branding for its most popular (and financially significant) product. The "iPhone 6" moniker simply doesn't make sense. Apple is a company that values simplicity above all else, and it needs to simplify its product naming conventions.

This year's iPhone will be the eighth-generation model, so "iPhone 6" isn't quite accurate. That didn't stop Apple from using "iPhone 5" two years ago either, though.

Year

Generation

Name

2007

1st

iPhone

2008

2nd

iPhone 3G

2009

3rd

iPhone 3GS

2010

4th

iPhone 4

2011

5th

iPhone 4S

2012

6th

iPhone 5

2013

7th

iPhone 5s/iPhone 5c

2014

8th

???

The current state of iPhone branding is partially due to the tick-tock model that Apple adopted from Intel, and the "S" it appends every other year when Apple focuses on incremental internal improvements. Longtime Apple watchers may remember that when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 3GS in 2009, the "S" stood for "speed." Apple has stuck with this pattern for three tick-tock cycles, but it's quickly proving unsustainable in the long run. At this rate, in four years the 12th-generation iPhone would be called the "iPhone 8."

Instead, Apple should simplify its branding under the "iPhone Air" name that's also made the rounds in the rumor mill. The latest speculation is that only the 5.5-inch model will carry the "iPhone Air" name, while the 4.7-inch model will be called the iPhone 6. Moving away from numerical names is much more sustainable in the long run.

Apple has done it before
Apple seems to have acknowledged this with the iPad family, which has a rather inconsistent naming history.

Year

Generation

Name

2010

1st

iPad

2011

2nd

iPad 2

2012

3rd

The New iPad

2012

4th

iPad With Retina Display

2013

5th

iPad Air

2014

6th

???

The good news for the iPad is that Apple has mostly gotten away from relying on numerical branding, which is simpler for the consumer and a better long-term marketing strategy. Still, that hasn't stopped people from referring to the upcoming model as the "iPad Air 2."

Every other product in Apple's lineup eschews numerical branding, from the iPod Touch to all Macs; there is no "iMac 12" or "MacBook Pro 5." These product families merely use generations or years to reference their models, similar to the auto industry. This is actually quite an achievement in the realm of consumer electronics, where many companies still use needlessly complex model numbers such as Hewlett-Packard's HP ENVY 15z-j100 (not to be confused with the HP ENVY 15-k020us).

Apple should do what it does best: simplify.

Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.

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