What’s in an  Name?

Apple exec in front of massive screen showing three models of iPhone 11, including prices.
Apple presents its latest iPhone line-up.

A sure sign that I’m something of an  GEEK  is that, three years ago, I wrote an ever-so-slightly portentous article on the company’s product naming strategy, and how I felt they could clarify, simplify and straighten out their various product lines—be they tablets, laptops, desktops or phones.

Essentially, I was pushing for a simplification into three, overlapping categories: “Pro” (standing for either “Professional” or “Productivity”, depending on what you think most appropriate), “Consumer”, and a separate subdivision of the latter best described as “Entry level”—essentially, the previous generation of Consumer model, at a significantly reduced price.

I thought it worked quite well, even when applied to 2016’s iPhone line, but Apple clearly had other plans. Instead of simplifying their desktops to Mac Mini, Mac (formerly iMac) and Mac Pro, in 2017 they opted to extend the category by introducing a half-house option called iMac Pro.

It took until early 2019 for Apple to finally simplify their laptop line, although not by keeping the 12” MacBook as the default Consumer device; instead they upgraded the MacBook Air, now the only Entry Level/Consumer option compared with the “Pro” machines (with a choice of 13”/15” screens).

Back in 2016, I thought that the “most controversial part of my rebranding” was applying the same principle to the iPhone line: essentially designating the newest, largest iPhone model “Pro” and the oldest, smallest models as the Entry-Level “Mini”—with a plain iPhone sitting as the main consumer choice.

That, again, didn’t happen. However, yesterday, Apple finally brought the “Pro” branding to iPhone. You might, of course, be wondering: “What could possibly distinguish a ‘professional’ smartphone from one used by us ordinary mortals?” From the keynote it principally appears to be its cameras (three lenses!) and image processing capabilities.

All of which, I admit, rather suggests that – professional vanity notwithstanding – I’m not actually a “Pro” customer, at least when it comes to the iPhone. In my everyday work as a (print) journalist I simply don’t need that level of imaging power – and don’t see this changing any time soon.

In any case, the naming still annoys me! The largest, most expensive of the new iPhone models announced yesterday is the “iPhone 11 Pro Max”—which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? (Mind you, it’s effectively the successor to iPhone XS (“Ten S”) Max, which wasn’t any better.)

So what would I like instead? Well, I think that the iPhone numbering system has little or no relevance these days, given the incremental upgrades from one model to the next; plus, there’s the impending challenges of Triskaidekaphobia looming if the naming protocol isn’t reformed in the next few years.

Designating any larger iPhone as “Max” only emphasises one thing—its size. That might be a selling point for some, but it’s not a branding issue considered necessary for any other Apple products. We don’t talk about an “iPad Pro Max” or “MacBook Pro Max”, just versions with larger screens.

So, forget “iPhone 11 Pro Max”. I believe it’ll be to Apple’s advantage to simplify the branding: to eventually get to the point where they’re just selling a range of “iPhone” and “iPhone Pro” models—with both (or at least the latter) available, like iPad Pro, with different screen sizes.

OK: “the big-screen 2019 iPhone Pro” isn’t particularly shorter than “iPhone 11 Pro Max”, but I do believe it’s easier to say and remember.

That said, at least Apple yesterday moved away from Roman Numerals: just imagine all those people asking about the “Eye-Fone Ex-Eye Pro Max”!