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.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
3 min read
Angela Lang/CNET

With iOS 13 Apple  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.

Apple iOS 13: Top new features

See all photos

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.) 

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.

Dark mode for iOS 13: iPhone's dark side never looked so good

See all photos