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Commentary Phones

iPhone names will hit a wall in 2019

Commentary: iOS 13 hinted at what's to come with this year's new iPhone -- but not what it's called.

Angela Lang/CNET

With iOS 13Apple gave us a window into the next iPhones, one where dark mode rules supreme and you can sign in to a website without giving up your email address. But in between customizing Memoji and improving the iPhone camera, the one thing CEO Tim Cook and friends didn't reveal about the next major iPhone is its name. The thought genuinely puzzles me: What comes after the iPhone XS and iPhone XR?

I know, I know, who cares about a phone name, right? It's right down there with color at the bottom of the list of things you should care about. And yet, like color, phone names actually matter -- to Apple, and on a deeper level, probably to you, too. Names are tools that brands use to entice buyers and convey certain values and characteristics about the thing they're selling. iPhone XS, fine. iPhone XYZ or iPhone XX, bad. And if you need more convincing, just peek at our gallery of 30 worst phone names. There are some pretty impressive missteps.

For Apple specifically, the future of the iPhone X line is important because it represents a new iPhone era. The iPhone X is the device that shook off the yoke of the physical home button and went all-screen. It's the iPhone that charged ahead with secure face unlock, a feature that Android rivals still can't compete with almost three years later. Never forget that the iPhone X is also the phone that made it almost normal to pay $1,000 for a smartphone. The "X" isn't just a name, it's a thing that defines Apple's iPhone future.

Would Apple really call its next phone the iPhone 11 (as we do for ease and a general sense of chronology)? Or would it make more sense to stick with the X theme, and if so, then how -- iPhone X2 and X2S? Or is that the iPhone XI? Would that make 2020's phone the iPhone XIS? Of course not.

Part of the problem is that the iPhone "X" name is already confusing. It looks one way, but sounds another. Apple calls it the iPhone "ten," but you call it the iPhone "excess," "ex are" and "excess max."

The trouble began in 2017 when Apple skipped over the iPhone 9 to release the iPhone 8, 8 Plus 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 wonder what the plan is next. (I've made similar arguments here and here.) 

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Here's another thought. Apple could simply call its new phone the "iPhone X (2020)." Apple has 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 mass confusion. ("Which iPhone do you have?" "Uh, the iPhone?")

Apple could also just carry on with its carefree new naming convention or 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. With Apple, anything is possible.

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.

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Apple iPhone XS (64GB, space gray)
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