Something big was missing from Tuesday’s iPhone 12 event. And no, I’m not talking about AirTags, AirPods Studio, a new Apple TV, Apple Silicon Mac or live contestants.
What was missed was an “S” at the end of the new iPhones name. The death of the naming convention to indicate iPhones for alternative years marked the end of an era. And that’s all right.
S upgrades were a staple for iPhone releases
Alternatively year “S” models have been a staple for the iPhone since the iPhone 3GS in 2009. It was a way to signal to customers about the difference between a full number, very big update and an S-model tweak. “S year”
For example, the iPhone 4s introduced Siri. The iPhone 5s gave us Touch ID. The 2015 iPhone 6s brought the 3D Touch, “Hi Siri” and the end of the Bendgate design flaw. “S” models allow Apple to customize and perfect a familiar piece of hardware, while trying out an experimental new feature. They weren’t always the flashy iPhones, but people absolutely liked them.
However, the implication was there: They were moderate upgrades. It was like Street Fighter II franchise and adds new words to the titles: Turbo, Super Turbo, Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting. There were some great games in there, but after a while I remember having conversations with friends about why Capcom would not pull the trigger and just jump to Street Fighter III?
Sorting the naming nightmare
There are some reasons why Apple is releasing the “S” brand for iPhones. The first is simplicity. Apple is about simplicity as a driving mantra. But Apple’s product name has become more confusing for many years now, reminding older users of the chaotic product line of the 1990s. Fortunately, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and introduced simple naming options that would not scare bejesus out of potential new customers.
However, as my colleague Ed Hardy pointed out yesterday, Apple is no longer the “one size fits all” company it was in Jobs’ day. As illustrated by the iPhone line 2020, Apple is about giving people options, whether it’s colors or screen sizes.
This year, for the first time ever, Apple introduced four new iPhones at a single event. With three sizes in total (6.1-inch iPhone is available in both regular and Pro variants), it already offers more choices than anyone would want. Gone are the days when a simple “S” was the only thing attached to an iPhone name.
As of 2014, we got the “Plus” designation for larger iPhones. (Apple later changed it to “Max”.) Then Apple skipped the iPhone 9 and brought us the iPhone 8 and iPhone X the same year to mark the device’s 10th anniversary. Things hit its cool years later, when Apple brought us the iPhone XR and XS, and kept the “S”, but confused it with the X (which we should pronounce “10”) and added “R” for the lower-end version.
Had Apple stuck to the naming gun, we might have had the iPhone 11s mini, 11s, 11s Pro and 11s Pro Max. Or, Jobs Forbidden, iPhone 11SR Mini, iPhone 11SR, iPhone 11S Pro and iPhone 11S Pro Max. Why make things more complex than they need to be?
No more iPhones to skip
The second reason is because at a time when smartphone sales are declining, it is simply not necessary to suggest that every two years handset can be skipped. Back when Apple introduced its “S” name, sales of the iPhone grew by extraordinary numbers each year. Apple even released press releases that were wrong about sold devices – something the company would never do today. These days, people are holding on to phones longer. Sales of the iPhone, along with the rest of the smartphone market, remain stable or declining.
The low-hanging fruit of flashy, headline-grabbing innovation has in many cases already been picked. Apple still does a great job of introducing compelling features every time it unveils an iPhone. The idea of signaling that the latest iPhone is a minor upgrade would be extremely questionable. With a mature market where questions about the ideal shape and size of a smartphone have been largely answered, it seems retrograde to equip people to expect a massive overhaul every two years with a jumpy upgrade in between.
I’m glad Apple saw the light and decided to make the change. (And hey, if you really want the letter “S” in your iPhone name, it’s always iPhone SE!)