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Commentary Phones

iPhone 'X' names have nowhere to go in 2019

Because what comes after iPhone XS?

James Martin/CNET

Might as well hand Apple a shovel, because with 2018's iPhone XSXR and XS Max, the trillion-dollar iPhone-maker has dug itself into a hole. Puzzle through this with me: what comes after iPhone XS and XR?

It might be tempting to discount phone names as trivial, but they're actually important tools for brands to entice buyers and convey certain values and characteristics about the brand. iPhone X, good. iPhone XYZ or iPhone XX, bad. And if you need more convincing, consult this gallery of 30 worst phone names below.

For Apple specifically, the "X" is an important shift because it represents Apple's rebranded iPhone line with ultraslim bezels, secure infrared face unlock technology and no home button. The X brand is a pricier lineup than before, and it's easing you into paying more for your phone.

Part of the problem is that the iPhone "X" name is already confusing. It looks one way, but sounds another -- "ten" instead of "ex." That's all right when it's just the iPhone X you're looking at. But when you combine it with an S, an R and an S Max, my guess is that nine people out of 10 will call them the "excess," "ex are" and "excess max." See? Confusing.

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 wonder what the plan is next. (I've made similar arguments here and here.) 

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?

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

Well, what about simply calling it 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 maddeningly illogical new naming convention. Perhaps 2019 will bring us the iPhone XRS or the iPhone X2. But then would the following year beget the iPhone X2S? (What does the R in iPhone XR mean anyway..."reduced"?) 

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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.

Originally published Sept. 16, 2018, and updated most recently Dec. 30 at 4 a.m. PT.

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

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