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Commentary Phones

iPhone 11, iPhone XI or iPhone Lemur? Apple still has a 2019 iPhone naming problem

Because what comes after iPhone XS?

James Martin/CNET

Apple has an iPhone problem, and the new iPhone XS, XR and XS Max only make it worse. Where does Apple go from here? 

The trouble began in 2017 when Apple skipped over the iPhone 9 to release two 8s and a "10," its tenth anniversary phone. But in so naming the iPhone X -- and following it up with three more "X" phones in 2018 -- Apple has created a ripple effect that makes me scrunch my brow and wonder aloud, "What the hell, Apple? What can possibly come next?" (I've been saying this for over a year. Actually, I beat this drum a lot.) 

The first issue is the X. It looks like an "ex," but you have to say it as a "10" or else all the fanboys and fangirls will yell at you. That makes a certain amount of sense when the X stands alone. But when you combine it with an S, an R and an S Max, the brain takes over and you get the iPhone "excess," the iPhone "ex are" and the "excess max." Best-case scenario, your "10 ess" transmutes into "tennis," a fine game on the court, but a really bad name for a phone.

The second problem arrives when you think about the issue of succession. The "X" is an important shift for Apple, one that represents a higher echelon of iPhone than the ones that preceded it. The X represents Apple's rebranded iPhone with secure infrared face unlock technology, no home button and state-of-the-art giant screens. The X brand is a pricier lineup than before, and it's easing you steadily, purposefully, into paying more for your phone.

Read also: Why your iPhone is getting more expensive

So what logically comes after the iPhone XS, the linchpin of the new iPhone X family? Oh, didn't you know? The iPhone X is essentially no more. Apple yoinked it from its online store, which makes it a truly one-year-edition phone as far as direct sales from Apple are concerned. You'll still be able to buy it through carriers and third-party retailers, at least while current supplies last.

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Apple could follow up the iPhone XS -- where "S" delineates a minor upgrade -- with the iPhone 11. Or is that the iPhone XI? Would that make 2020's phone the iPhone XIS? ("iPhone Ziss"?) No way; what a horror show.  

Well, what about simply calling it the "iPhone X (2020)"? Apple's done this before with iPads and MacBooks and although we don't like it, we've learned to accept it, even if it does create huge amounts of confusion. ("Which iPhone do you have?" "Uh, the iPhone one?")

Apple could also just carry on with its maddeningly illogical new naming convention. (Seriously, what does the R in iPhone XR even mean? "Reduced"?) Perhaps 2019 will bring us the iPhone XRS or the iPhone X2. But then would the following year beget the iPhone X2S?

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Or maybe next year we'll finally get that rumored stylus-friendly iPhone at the top end. That could be the "iPhone X Pro," at least.

Then again, Apple could always throw us for a loop and finally bring the iPhone family in line with Apple's love of California geological name-places and call its next flagship phone the iPhone Tahoe, to mirror MacOS High Sierra.

I miss the warm certainty of a logical naming structure, where S's follow integers and all is well in the universe. As far as future iPhone names go now, it's still a brave -- and confusing -- new world.

Read next: iPhone XS vs. XR vs. XS Max: iPhone buying guide for 2018

Read also: iPhone XS vs. Note 9: What a $1,000 phone buys you