Ken Segall’s iPhone Naming: When Simple Gets Complicated argues for the next iPhone to be named “iPhone 6” rather than “iPhone 5S”:
More important, tacking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our “off-year” product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise. But look what happened with iPhone 5.
This model brought major changes: bigger screen, better camera, greater speed, all on a thinner and lighter body. Yet its improvements were still dismissed by many as “incremental.”
I agree: if Apple’s going to keep using sequential numbers (rather than feature-based names, like the second iPhone being named “iPhone 3G”), they should just give every model the next number. The next iPhone should either be the iPhone 6 or the iPhone Something Else, not the iPhone 5S.1
The iPhone 4S was a huge improvement over the iPhone 4, but the press and fans shat all over it because it had the same case design and therefore wasn’t “an iPhone 5”.
The 4S shipped during the clear beginning of the current era of Apple pessimism. Apple reduced people’s expectations with the “4S” name at the worst possible time: just as many were starting to think iPhone innovation was slowing, Apple named the new iPhone in a way that suggested, “This isn’t a big improvement.”
It’s a move that they could have made when they were on top of the world, PR-momentum-wise, much like when they released the iPhone 3GS, a similarly substantial improvement over the iPhone 3G that was similarly underrated by the public. But when the 4S was released, Apple no longer had that much positive momentum.2
A year later, when Apple did release a model named “iPhone 5” that was far better than the 4S and had an external redesign, the inertia of Apple pessimism was so strong and the press had become such petulant children about Apple products that they shat all over it even though it was a huge update that gave them everything they asked for, plus more.
Now, Apple pessimism is even stronger. No matter what they release and no matter how well it sells, they won’t win over the press, the pundits, the stock market, or the rhetoric. Not this year. They could release a revolutionary 60-inch 4K TV for $99 with built-in nanobots to assemble and dispense free smartwatches, and people would complain that it should cost $49 and the nanobots aren’t open enough.
Since they’re not going to meaningfully improve their PR momentum anytime soon, they might as well at least avoid trying to make it worse. This is not the time for Apple itself to suggest to the world that it’s slowing down innovation on its most important product.
Regardless of how big of an improvement the next iPhone is, Apple should just call it the iPhone 6 and give the finger to anyone who questions whether the name fits.
Plus, since the “5” and “S” characters are so similar, a “5S” model would be more awkward than usual. ↩
To make matters worse, they heavily focused the iPhone 4S’ marketing on Siri, a feature labeled “beta” that not only lived up to that label, but is fundamentally disappointing to most people’s expectations even when it works reliably. ↩