Apple Will Call the Next iPhone ... the What?

“At first sign of crisis, the ignorant don’t panic because they don’t know what’s going on, and then later they panic precisely because they don’t know what’s going on." -- Jarod Kintz

Smartphone competition is keen. Should Apple jump to the iPhone 6 name? But then Apple always has its own agenda. What are the real issues? Let's take a deeper look at iPhone 5S vs iPhone 6 naming issue.


One of the strongest messages Apple can send customers is how it names its products. Back when Apple was migrating away from the IBM PowerPC CPU architecture, to Intel, Apple changed the the name of its notebook Macs from PowerBooks to MacBooks. A lot of people didn't like that name change. (I wasn't one of them.)

The advantage of the MacBook name is that all of Apple's Macintosh computers now contain the brand name Mac: Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro and the Macbook family. So there's something to be said for Apple being deliberate and conscious about how customers perceive its products and names.

The real question to ask is how panicked Apple feels about competition these days. In other words, does Apple have specific concerns, a vague panic, that outweighs sensible intentions and branding? Is the heat more flash than substance? Apple has never shown signs of that kind of branding panic before.

Ken Segall has suggested that Apple should keep this numbering issue in mind in his essay. "Phone naming: when simple gets complicated." It's a thoughtful article, and I liked his calm, logical approach. The author argues that, in the end, because 6 is greater than 5S, Apple should go with that.

That article is written in the context that many observers are seeing Apple in a "tick-tock" mode of iPhone development. A major upgrade appears every other year, "tick" and the "S" product is a minor upgrade, "tock," once again every other year. The problem is that the "S" sends a weak message, "that it's an off-year" product.

In one sense, this is an artificial attempt to impose some kind of technical order on a company that hasn't shown much interest in being dictated to. Or falling into a pattern that doesn't serve the company's bests interests. Remember the "New iPad"?

On the other hand, if it's a true technical recognition of the limits of smartphone technology development, and that's what Apple wants to convey, that's okay. But then the other camp urges Apple to gloss over it. Jump to "6" anyway! It looks better. Customers will "feel" better.

Product Messaging

I can see how Apple may well wish to convey the idea that the next iPhone is both better in some ways but not a ground breaking achievement in other ways. The reality is that Apple must innovate and create new technology to remain a leader, but limits remain. The best way to achieve that messaging but also appear reputable is to use the "S" suffix. Will that message destroy the sales potential?

Hardly. The analyst Horace Dediu has pointed out that each new generation of iPhones sells more than the preceding. Right there, we know that Apple isn't worried about the concerns of bloggers who create hits by sowing the seeds of fear that Apple is being overtaken by the competition via numerology.

Apple customers who are smart enough to use an iPhone are smart enough to know that the 5S is better than the 5, and many want the latest and greatest. After nine months, at the current rate of change in technology, they generally know what to expect. And they want it. Sure, a few will grumble that the delta isn't big enough. They are a tiny minority. Apple will catch them on the next cycle.

Another potential self-created problem with jumping to iPhone 6 at this time is that there's a new team at Apple. Scott Forstall is gone. iOS 7 is under pressure to right the UI wrongs of iOS 6. It might be delayed. There's a chance we could then see an iPhone 6 shipping with iOS 6. Some clever writer (not me) will probably figure out a way to add another 6 in a humorous, literary way and create the iPhone "666" -- Satan incarnate.

But really. Seriously? We have the iPad mini for goodness sake. Apple names its products in ways that brand, send a message and excite and inform the customer. If iPhone 5S (or 6) sends the desired message, then Apple will do exactly that.

Samsung. What Me Worry?

Others may argue that the competition with Samsung is more heated than ever. Samsung just moved from the Galaxy S3 to the S4. If Apple remains at 5S instead of leaping to 6, it could appear that Samsung is catching up. Panic.


Is there anyone who believes that if Apple is panicked into firehosing its version numbers, that potential customers will be swayed? Will consumers of smartphones buy into the idea that Apple has leaped two generations beyond Samsung by fiat?


Your Number's Up

I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other about which way Apple ought to go with this. There is no "ought," only "do." What I do know is that if Apple sticks with "5S" it will be because that's precisely the message Apple wants to send. That won't keep pundits from saying the sky is falling, that Apple didn't take the marketing bull by the horns and surge bravely ahead to "6." But as Mr. Segall points out, "Attempting to calibrate 'degree of innovation' in the product name seems like a needless (and self-diminishing) exercise."

Whatever Apple calls the next iPhone, it'll be something that hits home. It will telegraph Apple's message clearly. We'll know that it's better than the iPhone 5, and those who want to remain on the smartphone journey will upgrade based on the new features and advantages.

Somehow, I just don't see Apple in a panic mode right now, leaping forward in numbers for empty effect. If Apple does pick "6" and dispenses with the "5S" convention, it will be because they have a new message and a product that's genuinely worthy of the numerical leap.

Can Apple deliver such a product? We'll know shortly.


Panic: chasing a train via Shutterstock.