Why iPhone Names Have Numbers and Most Other Apple Product Names Don’t

I conducted a poll on Twitter this week asking what people think the new iPhones presumably being introduced next week will be named. With over 4,600 votes, the results were:

  • iPhone 13: 70%
  • iPhone 12S: 12%
  • iPhone (no more numbers): 15%
  • Other: 3%

I probably asked a few days too late — there was a credible leak purporting to show the packages for “iPhone 13 Pro Max” silicone cases from Apple over the weekend.

What intrigued me were the number of folks responding on Twitter who said that while they voted for “iPhone 13” as what they would be named, they wish that Apple would drop the numbers and just go with iPhone, iPhone Mini, iPhone Pro, and iPhone Pro Max, with implicit model years to tell them apart from new models in subsequent years. That’s basically how Apple names its other products — with the notable exception of Apple Watch (see below).

But just plain “iPhone” wouldn’t work for iPhones, because iPhones are different. When Apple introduces a new iPad Pro, it replaces the previous iPad Pro. You can’t go into an Apple Store and buy a new 2018 iPad Pro. But you can buy a new iPhone XR from Apple today — a model that was introduced in 2018. (I’d wait until next Tuesday before doing that.) Apple Watch is the only other product that’s sold like iPhones, with previous “series” sticking around for years at lower prices.1

Apple wants people who are buying new iPhones that were first introduced 2–3 years ago to feel like they’re getting a new iPhone. They should, because they are — they’re great devices at lower prices, and will be supported for years to come. But if the iPhone XR were named “iPhone (2018)”, it’d feel old.

I get it: it seems odd that in 10 years we might be awaiting the introduction of the iPhone 23 lineup, but at the moment, I don’t see this changing. The NFL just keeps counting Super Bowls — at least Apple only used Roman numerals for the X and XS/XR years.

  1. The Apple Watch numbering scheme is simple: new year, new series, incremented by one. The iPhone numbering scheme is not simple. There was no iPhone 2 — the second iPhone was named iPhone 3G. Thanks to the 3GS, the iPhone 4 was in fact the fourth model year. But then came the other “S” years: 4S, 5S, 6S, XS. And Apple skipped “iPhone 9” entirely. If Apple had stuck to a numbering scheme as simple as Apple Watch’s, next week’s new iPhones would be the iPhones 15. ↩︎