Apple announced three new iPhones at its event yesterday, setting up an awkward naming problem for next year’s models.
It called them iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X — where the X reads as “ten,” as this is the 10th anniversary edition iPhone. That sets up a puzzle for next year, spotted by UBS analysts Steven Milunovich and Benjamin Wilson:
“We’re surprised at the naming. We expected the iPhone X to be pronounced ‘X’ rather than ‘ten.’ Ten makes sense as the tenth year anniversary, but why not just call it the iPhone 10? Ten makes the new iPhone 8 sound old — maybe that’s intentional to prompt customers to reach for the X. Also, where does naming go next year — to the iPhone 9 and 11?”
The Cupertino, California, giant used to have a simple, numeral-based nomenclature.
The system began with iPhone 3G, which was followed by iPhone 3GS, establishing a tick-tock cycle that made the next brand name easy to foresee: iPhone 4 was followed by iPhone 4S. Then iPhone 5 came along, and the 5S followed. The same happened with the 6, 6S, and 7 after that.
Sure, Apple also introduced the “Plus” models, but they, too, followed the same pattern: iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7 Plus.
The two odd men out are 2013’s iPhone 5C, which debuted alongside the 5S, and last year’s SE, or Special Edition. As the name itself implies, these are more one-shot efforts than devices of a full line-up, so the confusion stayed low.
But then yesterday happened.
First, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus got their sequels out of sequence. Instead of 7S and 7S Plus, we got the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. And then, of course, the X.
This immediately puts the company in a weird position: With an “iPhone ten” around, the new iPhone 8 instantly seems not one, but two generations behind.
What is Apple going to name its new iPhones twelve months from now?
It will largely depend on one thing, and that is whether Apple will come out with two or three iPhones in 2018.
If it considers the iPhone X to be a one-shot, commemorative handset, it might as well introduce just two new iPhones again next time.
Imagine two phones with the overall size of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, but screens that take up almost the entire front, like the X, and indeed all the other design features from the ultra-premium model.
Apple could call these iPhone XI (eleven) and XI Plus, or ditch numbers altogether and start anew, in a way similar to the iPads.
The iPad is the best example we have of this possibility. Its naming journey saw it going from iPad, to iPad 2, 3, and 4, to iPad Air, iPad Air 2… and, eventually, just “iPad.”
The path evolved again towards simplicity. Now Apple only sells two iPads: The iPad and iPad Pro, which comes in two sizes.
Their operating system for Macs followed a similar route, too, going from Mac OS X (OS “ten”) to just macOS — back to its original roots.
The new iPhones, too, could take the same path.
But Apple might also want to stick with three iPhones — and that’s where things would get really tricky.
Moving from iPhone 7 and 7 Plus straight to iPhone 8 and 8 Plus makes it less likely that we will see an iPhone 8S and 8S Plus next year. And, with the “iPhone ten” around, it would seem weird to jump to iPhone 9 and 9 Plus as well.
There’s also another problem. Apple announced the iPhone X as its vision for “the future of the smartphone”: a device that makes its front panel the window to an augmented world, and ditches physical buttons for the most part.
That’s why it may be possible that the 8 and 8 Plus will be the last flagship devices that feature the old design with the fat top, bottom bezel, and physical home button.
In this scenario, three new, differently-sized iPhones are now very similar, making one of the two larger models mostly redundant (unless the mini-sized iPhone SE turned into an X version, too).
You can see the problem: The number system isn’t making much sense anymore.
One way around this would be for Apple to announce that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus would be the end the “first generation smartphone era” that the original iPhone introduced us to. The iPhone X would function as a bridge to the “future of the smartphone” Apple talked about on stage, ushering in an entirely new naming system.