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Summary:

Segall thinks “iPhone 5S” is an unwise idea is because it tells potential buyers that it’s an “off year” for Apple innovation.

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Former Apple ad man Ken Segall has done some thinking about the tendency to assume that the next iPhone will be called the iPhone 5S — and he thinks it’s a pretty bad idea. He argued in a blog post Thursday why Apple should call the next smartphone it releases next the iPhone 6, no matter what.

It’s true: even though Apple has released (in order) the iPhone 3GS in 2009, the iPhone 4 in 2010, the iPhone 4S in 2011 and the iPhone 5 in 2012, that doesn’t mean the company has to or will stick with that pattern. We’ve seen with the iPad in the last year that Apple has been unafraid to ditch naming conventions mid-stream and go with more descriptive names instead of numbers: after the iPad and iPad 2 in successive years came the third-generation “new iPad” in early 2012, which was quickly followed by a fourth-generation “iPad with Retina display” in October of the same year. Apple apparently doesn’t necessarily feel bound to tradition with naming its mobile devices.

One of the reasons Segall thinks “iPhone 5S” is unwise is because it tells potential buyers that it’s an “off year” for Apple innovation. He also says this kind of thinking has been a huge favor to Samsung, which has laid out hundreds of millions of dollars to paint the iPhone as old and behind the times.

You might be thinking, who cares? It’s just a name. But that’s Segall’s expertise: marketing. Whether or not the naming is supposed to reflect the device’s specs or speed or whatever (we actually don’t know the true meaning of the “S”), it’s critical for selling the product to new customers. As Segall puts it:

The simplest path is to give each new iPhone a new number and let the improvements speak for themselves. If anyone wants to say that the 7 isn’t as big a leap as the 6, that’s their business. Attempting to calibrate “degree of innovation” in the product name seems like a needless (and self-diminishing) exercise.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re looking for a new car, you’re looking for a 2013 model — not a 2012S. What’s important is that you get the latest and greatest.

And I agree with his take: why lower expectations for a device from the outset by telegraphing to buyers that this year’s device isn’t as new or “innovative” as the one coming in the next year? There are plenty of smartphone reviewers and tech bloggers willing to do that for Apple.

  1. Nicholas Paredes Friday, April 5, 2013

    The 4S was not an off year… And, having a release denoted as a step up to 6 without the associated functionality is an even less wise choice.

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  2. The whole iPad naming meme is really confusing. Naming the 3rd generation the “new iPad” was true only until the next one came out. For those of us making accessories for them, marketing gets complicated! If you buy a new iPad it’s not really a “new” one anymore, and is your retina display iPad the new one, or not? See what I mean?

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  3. >> we actually don’t know the true meaning of the “S”

    I seem to remember Steve Jobs saying that the “S” stands for “speed” in the unveiling of the 3GS.

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  4. Andrew Borg Friday, April 5, 2013

    Naming plays a distant second to actual innovation as the key challenge.

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  5. It doesn’t matter what you call it iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 as long as there is new and innovative milestones it will sell. If the innovations are not significant it won’t matter if you name iPhone 7 no one will buy it.

    Keeping the naming as 5S is to help the aftermarket. It says all changes are internal and the form factor will not change and OEMs can continue making XYZ widget for the iPhone 5S and it will work.

    No one will want an iPhone 6 if there are not accessories that will work with it. Mophie finally released the battery pack for the iPhone 5. How do you think these companies will feel if you change it up again this quickly.

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  6. I see where that perspective is coming from, but I think it’s a balance because if the dominant response to a release is that it’s incremental, but you’ve labeled it distinctly new, then folks will start calibrating their expectations, based on what your use of that label means to them.

    The other factor here is the largely 2 year carrier contract cycle (in the US), which Apple’s current version naming model ties with nicely.

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  7. I agree, as an avid iphone user, i’d wait for iPhone 6 over getting an iPhone 5S. It’s clearly describes the release as an interim version not a full blown redesign and upgrade.

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  8. flamencoguy Friday, April 5, 2013

    They can name it iPhone 10 for all I care. I’m not biting.

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  9. I think Apple can safely release an iPhone 5s seeing as how their main competition released such a lackluster phone, namely Samsung releasing the S4.

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