Name-Guessing Guessing Game: The 2018 iPhones

18 August 2018

Last year, Apple pulled a fast one on pundits who were attempting to guess the names of the 2017 iPhone lineup. Lots of people expected the iPhone 7s and 8, the iPhone Pro, iPhone Edition, or whatever; but, in Uluroo’s memory at least, iPhone X wasn’t a common guess until the final days before the event at which the device was announced.

A tweet from Ryan Jones got Uluroo thinking… what will Apple call the new iPhones? It’s kind of put itself in a tough spot this year: one device is named with Roman numerals, the other two are named with Arabic numerals, and to advance both systems at the same time could get tedious. So Uluroo decided to compile a list of the naming possibilities he finds most likely. In the evaluation process, Uluroo likes to factor in whether a naming convention makes sense down the road or whether it gets weird after a few generations.

Another important thing when making guesses is that you can’t just predict what you think one name will be; each of these devices’ names is dependent on the rest. For example, if you think the 6.1-inch iPhone will be called “iPhone,” which is a real possibility, just make sure you have a good explanation for what the rest of the lineup is.

Uluroo thinks that now that all three iPhones will look very similar and have the same overall design, the goal of any naming scheme should be to highlight their differences without ignoring their similarities. That’s why an 11-9 split doesn’t make much sense; it implies that the difference between the upper- and lower-end models is bigger than it really is. (It also just gets awkward when you reach 12-10 because 10 has already been used.)

If you’re just skimming through, the names are ordered like this: 6.5-inch iPhone, 5.8-inch iPhone, 6.1-inch iPhone.

iPhone X Plus, iPhone X, iPhone

This naming scheme comes with a few benefits. First, if Apple’s goal with the 6.1-inch model is to make the iPhone X’s design more accessible to more budget ranges, it’s good for that device to be the “default” or “just plain” iPhone. Second, it continues the trend of “X” not just meaning “ten” but conveying a premium, exclusive feel. That applies both to the X and the X Plus, the upper-end devices.

There are a couple of drawbacks, however. Apple will have to resort to designating models by year rather than number in the future, and that’s not ideal. One side effect of that is that “iPhone X Plus (2018)” can be kind of a mouthful. If Apple thinks it can get past the problem of naming models by year, this is a good, sustainable naming scheme that can last indefinitely.

It’s true that Apple could elect to call the 6.1-inch model “iPhone 9” in this lineup, but Uluroo finds that hard to believe. What would Apple do next year? iPhone Xs Plus, iPhone Xs, iPhone 9s? Okay, then what about the year after that? iPhone XI Plus, iPhone XI, iPhone 10? Splitting the names by two numerical generations was hopefully a one-off thing, especially because the iPhone X won’t be a standout device anymore; its design will be propagated to the whole lineup.

iPhone 11 Plus, iPhone 11, iPhone 11c

This naming setup is also very good. There are no drawbacks that immediately come to mind. This one can also last pretty much indefinitely, and it changes the “just plain iPhone” from the 6.1-inch to the 5.8-inch iPhone. In Uluroo’s opinion, this is very good; he’ll elaborate on that when he gets to the names he finds most appealing. Another benefit is that this allows the excitement of advancing a whole model number; keeping the names the same implies less change.

Some might say that iPhone 10s Plus, iPhone 10s, and iPhone 10c would make more sense, but Uluroo thinks that the “s” naming convention is dead forever. With a three-phone lineup, it can’t last more than two years. In 2019, following this pattern, Apple would presumably release the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Plus, and iPhone 11c. Then in 2020, the iPhone 11s Plus, the iPhone 11s, and the iPhone… 11sc? 11cs? It gets too weird. Uluroo thinks the real benefit of “10s” is that it advances the names forward rather than keeping them the same, and that is also achieved by 11 Plus and so on, without the problem of tedious naming.

Another possibility is that the 6.1-inch device will be the iPhone 9 alongside the iPhone 11 and 11 Plus. Earlier Uluroo touched on why that makes no sense. It’s simply too big of a split for devices that aren’t that different from one another as far as design. Last year, the iPhone X was a huge step forward and justified a two-number difference, but this year represents the rest of the iPhones catching up, not staying so far behind.

iPhone Plus, iPhone, iPhone c

This is what Uluroo thinks Apple should do, but he doesn’t actually find it that likely. The drawbacks have been mentioned already. It comes with the confusion of model years. It harkens back to the iPhone 5c, an image Apple may not want to be recalled when consumers look at the iPhone c.

But the benefits are real. Again, this lineup places emphasis on the 5.8-inch model. Allow Uluroo to attempt to explain.

Try to think of a slogan for the models of this year’s iPhone lineup. 6.5-inch: “The biggest iPhone experience.” 5.8-inch: “The premium iPhone.” 6.1-inch: “The iPhone for everyone.”

The problem with placing emphasis on the 6.1-inch model is interesting. Plus is a comparison in size, and the iPhone Plus is bigger than both of the other iPhone models this year. c is a comparison in affordability, and the iPhone c is more affordable than both other iPhones this year. But X is a comparison in luxury, and the 5.8-inch iPhone is more premium than one other iPhone model this year, not both. So to avoid the confusion of a lineup where the iPhone Plus doesn’t seem as premium, the biggest model has to be called iPhone X Plus, which is less snappy and memorable than just iPhone Plus.

The 5.8-inch iPhone is the only one that doesn’t have a word that can illustrate its benefits over the other two phones in the lineup. To preserve memorable and pronounceable names, it makes sense for the odd one out to serve as the “just plain” iPhone.

iPhone Plus: bigger than the others. iPhone c: cheaper than the others. iPhone: just iPhone.

Now, of course, Apple doesn’t have to go with “c” as the suffix for the cheaper iPhone’s name. If it can come up with a better single-syllable word, that achieves the same goal that Uluroo tried to achieve with this naming scheme.

The others

There are some possibilities Uluroo omitted from this list because they are, in Uluroo’s opinion, obviously a bad long-term choice. For example, iPhone Xs Plus, iPhone Xs, iPhone (or iPhone 9). Uluroo thinks that A) Roman numerals are not going to continue to get bigger. XI and XII and so on will get annoying. But keeping the X and not changing it does make some sense.

Second, as Uluroo mentioned earlier, Apple needs to get all the iPhones on the same page. Sure, one of them is cheaper, but it’s based on the same design that Apple considered such a huge step forward last year. So if the iPhones are assigned actual numbers, they should all have the same number and be given some kind of suffix to differentiate them.

There are many, many possibilities when it comes to iPhone naming this year. Uluroo has listed the three naming schemes he finds most likely. If he missed one, it’s possible that he found it too unlikely to include. If that offends you because you found those names most likely, feel free to yell at him with a tweet.