It looks like the next iPhone will be called the iPhone 5. What’s in a name? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Every hardware product that Apple has released has had a brand and a sub-brand. Macs for example use the Mac brand and a sub-brand as follows:

  • iMac
  • Mac Pro
  • Mac mini
  • MacBook

Thus each sub-brand imparts certain meaning to the buyer. iPro, mini, book are all evocative. MacBook even has its own sub-brands:

  • MacBook Pro
  • MacBook Air

These Mac sub-sub-brands of Pro and Air are specifically designed to also distinguish and convey meaning.

iPods as well use the iPod brand followed by a sub-brand.

  • iPod Classic
  • iPod touch
  • iPod mini
  • iPod shuffle
  • iPod nano

Note how the mini  sub-brand was retired from the iPod line to be used exclusively in the Mac product line. That may not be specifically necessary or desirable but it is an interesting coincidence. (The Pro sub-brand is shared between different Mac lines)

However, when we look at the iPhone and the iPad, the nomenclature has been distinctly different. Both products have been using generational naming conventions. This implies no sub-branding as the iPhone and iPad are the only identifiers of brand and hence the only meaning being imparted to the buyer. You either get an iPhone or and old iPhone.

That changed with the iPad however. The third generation iPad became just iPad. This was deliberate (why would they want to confuse buyers?) I think there is some logic to this.

Note the parallel to the convention of the original iPod. When the iPod launched it was just the iPod. Subsequent versions were identified by a generation, but not a specific sub-brand. After the third generation iPod (still called iPod), the mini version was launched, creating the sub-brand convention that remains in use to this day. The iPod therefore was born generational but switched to sub-branding in adolescence.

The possibility exists, therefore, that there will be a sub-brand for the iPad. Perhaps “mini” is being reserved for a new iPad, to distinguish it from the regular iPad (no sub-brand) that is likely to remain in production. The logic is to make room for sub-brands when the core brand begins to cover a wider array of form factors, themselves proxies for separate use cases or jobs to be done.

So what about the iPhone?

The iPhone has remained, stubbornly, after five years, stuck with a generational naming convention vis-à-vis the sub-brand convention used in every other mature product line from Apple. (Note that software from Apple adheres strictly to a generational naming convention because there is no “room” for a sub-brand under a software brand. There can be no “iWork Pro” or “Final Cut EZ”. [Update: there once was Final Cut Express])

Prior to today I entertained the possibility that the new iPhone will follow the iPad in dropping generational naming in favor of sub-branding thus implying that the brand would develop into a portfolio of sub-brands (like the iPad seems about to.)

Alas, that possibility now seems moot. The launch announcement seems to clearly point to “5” being the name of the new iPhone. The brand remains iPhone and there will be no sub-branding.

This can only mean that Apple intends to preserve a single product strategy for the brand. There will be no “special” iPhone for different (e.g. low-end) markets. There will be no different form factor to accommodate different use cases. There will be no new jobs to be done for the iPhone.

What a bummer.

However, there may be something more curious happening. Note all the service brands being launched on the iOS platform. There’s Siri, (as yet unnamed) Maps, GameCenter and PassBook. These are not Apps. These are services designed to be unique to iOS, perhaps even unique to the iPhone. The difference with the iPhone brand may not be that it spans a multitude of sub-brands in hardware but that it covers a multitude of new service brands. As brands imply meaning, the iPhone brand may imply that it’s a platform in and of itself.

Now that’s an interesting development.


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  • All of those (except PassBook?) are available on iPad as well, so I don’t see how they could be unique to iPhone.

    • aleand

      My thoughts exactly. How does this same argument not apply to the iPad? I’m sure I’m missing Horace’s point, since this is too obvious. If I could state a question, what exactly makes the iPhone a “platform in and of itself”, and how does that not apply to the iPad?

  • I have a copy of “Final Cut Express HD”.

  • khakionion

    Final Cut Express?

  • Final Cut Express

  • As the iPhone 4 shifts down to take the “free” (with contract) slot in the US and other countries, don’t you think the 3GS (which will run iOS 6) will shift down to the low-end markets you mentioned?

    • Yes, though I believe the 3GS might be gone this year. The 4 will become the new low end. Note however that these are not sub-brands. They are generations of the same brand and thus have no meaning associated with them except “old”.

      • KirkBurgess

        While the actual hardware can rightfully be referred to as being “old”, I think unlike other apple product lines, the “old” generations of the iPhone continue to hold consumer value as they age because of OS upgrades (and the new jobs to be done solutions contained within).

        For example the iPhone 3GS running iOS 6 from next month has far more capability than the iPhone 3GS running iOS 3 when it was released in 2009.

      • K M Zeise

        Given that the original iPad is no longer supported in ios 6, but the iPhone 3GS is, I find it likely that it will continue to serve a role in the prepaid market

      • Perhaps. I would like to see the 3GS continue in production.

      • Peter Millard

        How about if the iPhone 4 is dropped? Line-up would be 3Gs, 4s and 5; three different form factors, three different hardware specs, at three different price-points.

      • I think Apple may upgrade the 3GS’s specs on par with iPhone 4 and drop iPhone 4 in production, which just leave iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 for sales. Maybe that won’t be happening, as it will causes confuses.

      • What’s your reasoning behind that? The 3GS is pretty much obsolete irregardless of the fact it run iOS 6 (albeit in deprecated form). I prefer they drop the 3GS and keep the 4 as their prepaid option.

      • vincent_rice

        The iPhone is unique in the product line because it requires a carrier contract – doesn’t this promote a ‘generational’ mind set? The numbers are a way of keeping score for upgraders – it’s a theory…

  • My 2 cents.

    The change in name from iPod mini to iPod nano was a technological issue: changing from hard disk to solid state. It seems to me that it was a compromise to name a new device that occupied the same level in the product line but was different in concept.

    • Mini to nano transition was curious. There was a technology change which allowed for a form factor change but it was significant enough that it re-positioned the product. Apple wanted to highlight the fact that this new product was really, really small, not just small.

  • If Apple’s release pattern continues and they sell the iPhone 4S at a reduced rate when the new iPhone is released, it would be confusing to sell an iPhone and an iPhone 4S. On first glance, many consumers might think the 4S is newer or more powerful based only on it’s name. I know they’re currently doing the same thing with the new iPad and the iPad 2, but it still doesn’t make it any less confusing. I think as long as they continue to sell multiple generations of the same device they need to keep the numerical generation number in the name.

    • The move from iPad n to iPad was deliberate and must be assumed to be carefully thought out. Apple takes brands seriously.

      • Nevermark

        Baughman: multi-generational devices without numbers are confusing.
        Deidu: Apple removed the iPad generation number for a good reason.
        Ergo: Apple is planning to segment the iPad market by size not generation, so either at the iPad mini launch, or after, Apple will halt the practice of selling older generation iPads.

      • ccbs

        I agree. I believe at the launch of iPad mini, the new iPad will also be updated with the mini connector and the iPad 2 will then be dropped completely. Moving forward, there will be the flagship with 9.7″ iPad and the iPad mini assuming the previous generation part as a low cost option.

      • vincent_rice

        Nailed it

      • Tatil_S

        You’re probably right, but that would leave a price umbrella for customers of 10” iPads at around $400. Granted Apple discontinues older generation laptops and does not mind leaving $1000 13” MacBook category open, but volumes of iPad2 and the margins seem high enough that I think Apple could keep selling one generation older version profitably. Lack of retina screen makes a big and obvious difference between the new and old iPad, so why hurry? If iPhone 4 and 4S is sellable side by side without much confusion, iPads should be fine, at least until next Spring.

  • adam

    I’m not sure it makes sense to have various iPhone form factors or models. iPods, iPads and desktops make a lot more sense to come in different versions, but what how exactly would (for instance) an iPhone Nano differ from an iPhone Pro? I think it makes a lot more sense that Apple’s nomenclature is designed to describe devices that were designed to fit market demand – not markets sought to fit names.

    • You might well ask this of all other phone makers who have hundreds of variants of phones. Just count how many Samsung Galaxy variants exist.

    • Abhi Beckert

      Personally, I wish they did have more form factors and models. I would love an iPhone that has a smaller screen (three inches?) and is lighter (less battery life) and maybe more rugged (rubberised corners, waterproof, etc).

      Other manufacturers offer all of these niche features, but I turn them down because they ship with crap software.

      But, other manufacturers also struggle to, you know, make a profit. So I can’t really complain.

      • Tatil_S

        Actually, a waterproof iPhone would be far more revolutionary than one with NFC or LTE. I’d wager people who accidentally get their phone wet would outnumber those who would use NFC for payments in the US.

      • This logic is horribly flawed. People are not going to pre-emptively know that they are going to get their phones wet for sure. Even if they thought that there was a chance of that happening, it would most likely not weigh in heavily in how they bought a phone.

      • Sharon_Sharalike

        Good point. But if during the presentation Tim “accidentally” drops his phone in a pitcher of water, then just pulls it out and keeps going, well that would be on heck of a demo…

      • Tatil_S

        Many people buy insurance even though they don’t know that they will get into an accident. Have commercials where people use their inevitably wet phones while kayaking or a little kid experimenting with a parent’s phone by dunking it into a glass of milk or a pair of jeans washed accidentally with a phone in one of its pockets, I am sure the value proposition would be obvious.

      • waterproofing your iphone is not revolutionary. It has already been an available 3rd party after-market option for a long time. It is a very small concern to most users anyway I’m sure. If people are really concerned, they can buy phone insurance (which, of course is negative in expected value and, in most cases, nonsensical for such a low priced item).

      • Tatil_S

        3rd party options makes the phone much thicker and usually uglier, so no, it is not the same thing at all. Phone insurance lets you replace the phone after your vacation is over, but does not let you keep on using it while having fun.

      • You’re actually quite wrong yet again! There are MANY 3rd party waterproofing options that do not affect the look of the iphone at all. They protect the internals of the iphone by using protective goop over the circuit boards.

      • Tatil_S

        Dude, give it a rest, will you? There are very very few customers who would let their $650 phone be opened up so that a third party can pour “goop over the circuit boards” inside. Are you that out of touch with reality?

        Most consumers don’t want to look for a waterproofing case that adds to the thickness, with various effects on its looks and possibly reducing the touch screen’s accuracy or sensitivity and which cannot be tried and tested easily at an Apple store. It just is not the same. If Apple could add waterproofing to its phone design (and I am sure it is difficult), it would make far bigger headlines and the phones on display in pitchers of water in the stores would make a far better demo than “come, see, there is an NFC chip in it, now you don’t have to bring your wallet out of your pocket, just bring out your phone out of your pocket” line of marketing.

      • The bottom line is that, obviously, it’s impossible to waterproof the phone, given the cost. There are a million things that you can wish for Apple to add, but they will only add the ones that bring the most value for them and their customers. Here’s an example of something similar to what you’re asking: “I’d like to have built in drop protection in a phone” (rubber protectors protrude out when the accelerometer detects the phone has been dropped). Guess what? Apple has a patent on something similar to that, but they’re not doing it because it’s just plain nonsensical in terms of value.

        In addition, another most likely wrong thing is that you’re implying is that there will be NFC in the iPhone 5 when there most likely will not be NFC.

      • Tatil_S

        Of course it is difficult to waterproof a phone. That is why it would be revolutionary if it could be done without too many trade-offs. I also did not assume NFC was gonna be used in iPhone-5. I don’t know why this back and forth lasted this long, but all I said was a waterproof iPhone would be more revolutionary than one with NFC, the feature many geeks are using as a yardstick for how iPhone will stack up against Galaxy. Assume two iPhones side by side, same OS, same battery life, same size, but one comes with NFC, the other without, but it is waterproof. My bet is that the majority of customers would pick the waterproof one.

      • handleym

        Personally I agree.
        I think the people who don’t see the value in waterproofing are people without kids, or who have never taken a water holiday.
        As other’s have pointed out, the issue is not the cost, it is the convenience. And one doesn’t want a clunky 3rd party solution; one wants the phone more robust out the box.

        I think people gasping that anyone would want such a mundane feature over the sexiness of something like NFC are the same people who can’t imagine why people would stream SD content when they could buy Blu-Ray discs; or why anyone would put up with the lossiness of MP3 when they could be listening to CDs; or why anyone would use a camera phone rather than an SLR — it’s this constant unwillingness to accept that, for the average human being, convenience is vastly more important than a slightly better spec. Sure, the improved spec is NICE, but that’s all it is, nice; whereas convenience is so much more.

  • I guess Apple doesn’t want to mess with the great upgrade cycle that they have going on with iPhones, which is encouraged by the generational naming. The ‘iPhone’ brand may imply a computing power and a prestige that they want to preserve.

    Even if there are no new jobs for the ‘iPhone’ brand, there could be a new job for the iPod touch, for example add a GSM+3G chip and it’s suddenly a phone. Add a GSM chip to the iPod nano, and it’s also now a phone. I think you’ve talked about this scenario before. These new iPods could be low-end disruptors of the iPhone.

    • KirkBurgess

      I think if 3G is added to the iPod touch it will be implemented in exactly the same way as the iPad – as a data only addition. Of course this does not prevent one from using VoIP services and FaceTime on such a device – which may well be the future of voice services anyway.

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  • KirkBurgess

    I had a similar thought about Siri, Maps & iCloud recently also, and how they are products that often span multiple devices.

    Trying to think how Horace would define them, I realized they are more than simply iPhone software features, and instead could be defined as individual solutions for jobs to be done by a consumer.

    While apple will continue to hold annual high profile events for its new hardware introductions, in reality these are for the most part just simple refreshes that keep the platforms up to date so they can run the much more important new software/service jobs to be done solutions that apple incorporates in its OS upgrades.

    It gets very little (if any) coverage, but the new features being added to the iPad with the forthcoming iOS 6 upgrade are perhaps a bigger upgrade for the iPad platform than the hardware refresh back in April. The iPad wil be a much better product come late September (particularly in China) than it is now.

  • Jimmy

    Not that long ago, I had a personal cell phone, a work cell phone, a home land-line phone and a work land-line phone and each was optimized for their specific functions.

    It sucked and today I have a single phone and am much happier for it.

    That isn’t necessarily the case with the other product lines – having multiple, optimized devices is actually favorable (I have an iMac and a MacBook) and so Apple uses sub-branding to distinguish them and encourage multiple device purchases. Since we really don’t want more than one phone, Apple has a single phone brand (thus the Touch, which is really an iPhone, gets branded as a different type of device).

    • handleym

      I see things differently. I see Apple as splitting the product line by human-body-optimized form-factors, well aware that
      (a) the human body isn’t changing any time soon AND
      (b) our bodies are similar but not identical.
      (Compare this with MS’ Surface vision).

      Within this model, there is scope for, eg a MacBook Air 11″ and a Macbook Air 13″.

      I think at some point (probably not this year) Apple will expand this to accept that some people have larger bodies and larger pockets and want a larger phone screen size; and some would prefer a smaller screen size.
      It’s a tricky business, and I don’t blame them for proceeding slowly — it’s really not clear to me how this market splits and what the two sweet spots are for size, and this may be one of those areas where asking people what they want is useless because people always say they want the bigger screen, then hate it after living with it for a week and finding how few pockets it fits into.

      There’s a sub-issue of the developer view of two phones, but I don’t think that’s important. Apple has done a vast amount to abstract the exact screen size from developers, and things do, for the most part, just work if you follow the rules. The real issue is what will optimize consumer delight while minimizing consumer regret.

  • It’s a red herring…

    My bet is this will be one event to rule them all. Apple will launch FIVE new products. iPhone, iPad Mini, iPod Touch, iPod Nano and new iMacs.

    • Clever idea, but it would make for an awfully long, or awfully shallow, presentation. I am guessing that the new Touch will be announced alongside the iPad Mini, though, rather than at the new iPhone launch.

      The other problem with such a multi-product launch is all the attention the logistics folks would have to give to each production ramp-up. Easier to stage them a month or two apart.

      • Im pretty sure you are correct on this one, but it would make for a pretty spectacular event if it were to happen. How to blow all the pundits minds in one event… BOOM!

  • kaelef

    While I don’t believe it’s likely, it is possible that Apple could introduce an iPhone 5 nano along with a ‘standard’ iPhone 5. Nothing that has been announced so far precludes that.

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  • Abhi Beckert

    Unlike the Mac, iPad and iPod line, I can get a new phone every two years almost for free, in the same way that I can upgrade to the new Mac OS X or iWork almost for free.

    Perhaps that has something to do with it?

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  • fumjusta

    Any reason for not mentioning iCloud in your list of services? I’m curious as to whether this omission is deliberate (because you view iCloud as something else)

    • Simply because iCloud is not a mobile only service.

  • DaveChapin77

    The iPod mini/nano were actually less “capable” than the Classic iPod in terms of all specs save two: size & weight. THAT’s what I still hope AAPL finally adds for iPhone. An iPhone mini, something that has the same screen size only absolutely the thinnest lightest possible design. At this point I’m sure 3GS tech could be shrunk by a factor of 2. If the SIM were easier to swap, you could go on your morning jog or afternoon workout with the mini and then swap the SIM into your ‘Classic’ when you head to work.

    I also think at these volumes, there is room for a iPhone Max, something just a little bigger for better battery life and more screen space (albeit w/ the same aspect ratio as the Classic version). Those large Android phones aren’t just popular because large is the only option for the flagships. They do fill a big niche (no pun intended).

    • Nathan Gallacher

      Another “spec” where the nano was superior was speed. I had a couple of nanos in my time: I never felt the need to have all my songs on one portable device. Every time I used a friend’s iPod Classic I became frustrated with the sluggishness of the UI thanks to the spinning hard drive. The speed factor fits well with the size and weight specs you mentioned. A tiny device that you could whip out of your pocket, pick a song, put back in your pocket, and get on with whatever else you were doing. As frictionless as possible.

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  • I think that the reason to not have the new iPhone called “The New iPhone” is that there will be at least 2 if not 3 other iPhones being sold along side of the new one. Next year how would you distinguish last years the new iPhone from the new the new and how about in 3 years. The iPad line is designed like a laptop line where there will only be one current model and maybe the past model will be offered in back alleys.

  • Joe_Winfield_IL

    I agree that the number is a red herring of sorts. I won’t guess what it means, only that Apple isn’t revealing a product name through press invites. The company likes to be coy with these things; the “5” shadow is pretty blunt if has to be taken at face value.

  • iphoned

    iPhone itself does the job of the smallest member ov the iPad family. Withe the up upcoming iPad mini all reasonable size factors will then be covered. The only job a smaller device would do would bevoice-only, and Apple is not in the voice-only business. Not anytime soon.

  • N8nnc

    My thought is that the invite is too obvious to be for iPhone 5. I argue that the original iPhone changed jobs when the price was dropped on 5 Sept 2007 and marks the beginning of the “5 years ahead” claim. That may be what this all about.

    The original announcement also appeared to debut three new products, before revealing them all in one. Perhaps there are five virtual products in the new iPhone. We’ll see shortly.

  • JF

    Apple might be launching 5 different products…

  • GizmoDan

    You say that the iPad can have a Mini, but the iPhone cannot? By what logic?

    • I thought I had made it clear in the post. Because it’s named 5.

  • Jony

    How about them Q4 estimates brother?

    • I need to hear what they say on the 12th. There will be material info presented.

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  • Ive been thinking about this in relation to the voice recognition on the new iPad—it seems like the Siri recognizer, minus all the neat tricks, and instead, just standing in for a keyboard. Why leave out the tricks? The service brand hypothesis for iPhone makes sense.

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