The strangest thing that happened at the iPad announcement last week turned out not to be the lack of Siri, presence of a home button, or uninteresting iOS 5.1 update, but instead the name; “the new iPad” rather than the universally predicted “iPad 3” (or late runner “iPad HD”). Based on this news, most people seem to think that there is a convergence with other product names in that everything will end up as just “iPad”, “MacBook Air”, “iPod Nano”, etc. In particular, people are predicting that the iPhone 5 (which would actually be the iPhone 6 - drives me crazy!) will now be launched as “the new iPhone”.
I don’t think this is correct.
I’ve tried explaining it on Twitter but 140 characters ain’t a lot of room to play with so I thought I’d lay some thoughts out on Apple’s naming conventions in this post. I’ll also try and second guess some of Apple’s future product announcements based purely on naming.
The iPod is the pure example of the new iPad naming philosophy as they have always just been known as individual products. i.e. iPod, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, etc. Every year (pretty much) a new device is launched that immediately replaces the old ones. If you look at something like the iPod Nano, there have now been six of them (all in various shapes and sizes) but you can only ever buy the latest version. In support documents, they are simply referred to by generation i.e. this case will work with “iPod Nano (6th generation)”.
The Mac lineup is slightly different to the iPod lineup in that there are more customisations that can be made. You can change processors, RAM, hard drives, screen sizes, etc but fundamentally there is only one product per line. When a new product is released, the old one is immediately unavailable. The naming is also slightly different - rather than referring to the latest Mac mini as “Mac mini (10th Generation)” it is referred to by date making the latest one “Mac mini (Mid 2011)”. This works because the Mac line can be updated multiple times per year with processor bumps, etc, so it makes sense to refer to its launch date rather than its generation. This is the same naming convention that a lot of Apple’s software uses such as iWork ‘09. Whilst iTunes isn’t named after a year (it’s just a version) you could add “20” in front to make them year based as they have been annual since v8.0 came out in 2008.
As regards the future of the Mac lineup, there are currently 5 products; MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro. I believe that convergence is going to happen on the MacBook Air / Pro lineup as it makes sense that Apple will make the Pro thinner, lighter, and will remove the optical drive. This is further evidenced by the fact that the MacBook itself was removed a while ago leaving the name free. In future, if you want an Apple laptop, you’ll just get “MacBook” - it could be any size from 11”-17” with various configurations but it will be one line. It’s also fairly likely that the Mac Pro will be removed for a slightly beefier iMac leading to just 3 lines; MacBook, Mac mini, iMac. That’s just pure speculation but it makes complete sense to me. If you want portable computing, you choose iPad or MacBook but you choose Mac mini or iMac for desktop computing.
The iPad lineup should have been simple - a single product that gets updated yearly and will always be known as “iPad”. However, Apple threw a spanner in the works by calling the second generation the “iPad 2”. There was no need to do this when the iPad 2 was the same price as the iPad and completely replaced it as per the iPod lineup but now they are stuck with it. By naming the iPad 3 “the new iPad”, it looks like they are trying to go back to that model but there is a big issue with that; the iPad 2 is still available for sale at a $100 discount. In Apple’s defence they’ve done a pretty good job of making this work with the structure of their website showing only “iPad” and then the “iPad 2” is a small button at the bottom. There is also a comparison chart which very quickly shows that “the new iPad” is newer than the “iPad 2”. It’s hardly an ideal situation though.
So why have they done it? Whilst the iPad 2 could have been completely removed and replaced by the new iPad (which would make the naming all work out nicely) they wanted to keep selling the iPad 2 at a discount as it beats the competition quite nicely. The only real competitor to the iPad has been the Kindle Fire so by making the entry-level iPad slightly cheaper they can appeal to some of the people that might have been stuck choosing between the two. They couldn’t retroactively rename the iPad 2 so they were stuck with the name.
My feeling on this is that the iPad 2 is going to be removed from sale before the end of 2012 and replaced by a smaller form factor (say 8”) and given a new line; “iPad Nano” or “iPad Mini”. This will get Apple to a good place where they have a cheaper iPad and the premium iPad and two simple lines that can be updated in the same way as the iPod lineup. I say this as if the iPad 2 was going to stick around for a full year I think the new iPad would have been called “iPad 2 Pro” as that’s essentially what it is - same form factor, better screen.
This is the real issue - what will the new iPhone be called. Based on my tweet yesterday, most people think it will be called “the new iPhone” to follow the iPad example. I highly doubt it. The difference with the iPhone to all of Apple’s other products is that they keep selling the old models for up to 2 years. Just look at the lineup now; “iPhone 3GS”, “iPhone 4”, “iPhone 4S”. If the next iPhone is referred to simply as “the new iPhone” then you’ll end up with “iPhone 4”, “iPhone 4S”, “iPhone”. That might work, but in 2013 you’d have “iPhone 4S”, “iPhone”, “iPhone” and that’s where it falls apart.
This is a tricky one for Apple and I don’t really have the answer. Let’s take a look at possible names for the next generation iPhone:
- iPhone 5 - it’s the 6th generation iPhone so that won’t work.
- iPhone 6 - Original, 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 6. Doesn’t really work as a numbering system but I wouldn’t rule it out.
- iPhone 4G - yesterday I thought this was a pretty good idea. Then I remembered that iOS 5.1 now refers to HSDPA+ as “4G” so I don’t think this can be used anymore.
- iPhone LTE - it’ll definitely have LTE integrated and iPhone’s have been named after their wireless tech before. However, LTE isn’t available around the world like 3G was so I don’t think they’ll go for this.
- iPhone HD - no. Just no.
- the new iPhone - I don’t think they can pull that trick twice.
- iPhone 2012 - maybe.
It’s a difficult situation and there is no obvious choice. I can see it going a number of ways though:
- The long rumoured “iPhone Nano” makes an appearance leading Apple to create just two lines; iPhone and iPhone Nano. iPhone 4/4S won’t be sold at a discount (they’ll just disappear) meaning that Apple can refer to the iPhone 6 as just “iPhone”. I don’t think they can do this if they continue selling the 4/4S though.
- iPhone changes to a year numbering system much like the Mac lineup - whilst you would just have “2012” instead of “mid 2012” it might work and allows you to distinguish between multiple versions easily. Not the tidiest of solutions though - “iPhone ‘12” or “iPhone 2012” doesn’t have the same simplicity as “iPhone 6” or “iPhone”
- Apple name it “iPhone LTE” - it might not be available everywhere but at least it distinguishes. Might have an issue in 2013 though - LTES won’t work and there won’t be another wireless technology to use.
- Apple choose something that isn’t in that list perhaps naming it after a design element with something like “iPhone Curve” (though obviously not “Curve” - RIM would have a fit if they’re still around)
Whilst nearly all of the Apple product line has converged to yearly updates that replace the previous model, the iPad 2 has caused a problem in that it’s still hanging around at a discount. I’m fairly sure this is going to be replaced by a mini or a nano at some point in the near future thus ending this particular story.
The iPhone, however, is a completely different story and I’m confident that Apple won’t name the next model “the new iPhone” unless they stop selling 3 versions of iPhone at the same time. That is doable (if a new line appears in the way I expect it to for the iPad) but I think it more likely that they will name the next iPhone after something about the device that we don’t know about yet; design, haptic touch, etc.
As usual, time will tell. Apple have a habit of choosing things that you wouldn’t expect.