The unusual naming conventions of the Apple iPhone
We have written about Apple’s strange naming conventions before. While Apple’s naming strategy for each release of their devices is inconsistent, the iPhone remains one of the most easy to understand.
When Apple names a device they normally describe the screen size, the year and the time of release. As such there are many MacBook and MacBook Pro models out there with long names that, while they describe some features of the device, do not make for easily recognisable branding.
Apple’s iPhone naming history
The iPhone (2007)
The original Apple iPhone. If you’ve read our article about 5 things you really didn’t know about the iPhone you will know this wasn’t the first iPhone. It was designed to break the current smart phone design by having minimal physical buttons and relying on the touch screen to navigate. The name of course was designed to put in mind the smart phone of the future and tie itself to the Apple branding.
The iPhone 3G (2008)
This device came about from a breakthrough in mobile technology when 3G technology was introduced. Looking very similar to the original, it featured faster chips and a better battery to deal with the increased drain from the 3G.
The iPhone 3GS (2009)
This is the first time that the unusual naming convention was first introduced. Almost to explain away a minor difference between the 3G and 3GS. The S stood for speed as this model had a minor upgrade in processor speed.
The S would later go on to be introduced at the end of several flagship models “re-releases” and mean very different things each time.
iPhone 4 (2010)
The iPhone 4 was the beginning of the numerical naming system. The notable difference in this device was it featured a front facing camera a first for Apple.
iPhone 4S (2011)
Continuing the S trend for minor changes, this device was nearly identical with the addition of one major software change, Siri. On the iPhone 4S apparently the S stood for Siri. This was the first time the virtual assistant was available on an Apple device.
iPhone 5 (2012)
Back to increasing numbers, the iPhone 5 featured a aluminium body and was much slimmer and lighter than the previous models. This design was actually used three different times with the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c.
iPhone 5S/5C (2013)
Featuring two different variants, one identical to the iPhone 5 in every way, but with the inclusion of new security measures and the addition of touch ID, the S stood for security.
Apple also released a cheaper version with colourful plastic backs and weaker chips on the inside. For this version, the colour was never seen again as it was poorly received and was badly rated by many reviewers due to it’s cheap design and poor performance.
iPhone 6/6 Plus (2014)
Introducing two flagship devices at the same time. The Plus variants would continue to be released alongside the usual flagship model for the next few years.
iPhone 6s/6s Plus/SE (2015)
In replacing the iPhone 6, not much was included here beyond being made out of stronger materials and the addition of 3D Sensitivity. S perhaps standing for Sensitivity.
This would be the last true S series we would ever see. Future generations of the iPhone would use different naming conventions or not introduce an S variant at all.
It also saw the introduction of the iPhone SE (Special edition). An iPhone 5 with upgraded iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s components throughout. We would later see the SE name return in 2020.
iPhone 7/7 Plus (2016)
Similar in many ways to the iPhone 7, this was made of stronger material and saw the removal of the headphone jack. This was a controversial move for Apple at the time, but the industry soon followed. Other major manufactures such as Samsung, Nokia and Sony soon copied this practise.
iPhone 8/8 Plus (2017)
Almost identical to the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 had an actual back glass for the first time since the release of the iPhone 4. What’s more, it could also use wireless charging pads. This was the last flagship release to have a physical home button and touch ID.
iPhone X (2017)
Alongside the iPhone 8, Apple released the iPhone X. A special 10th anniversary edition of the iPhone.
This was meant to represent the iPhone of the future and was the most expensive iPhone you could buy at the time. It had no physical home button and featured a near borderless screen and facial recognition.
Apple has consistently referred to the device in talks and releases as the iPhone “10”. This caused absolute confusion about where this device falls in the timeline and whether we would ever see an iPhone 9.
iPhone XR/XS/XS Max (2018)
Finally doing away with home buttons completely, Apple released three iPhones this year. Each handset featured a near borderless touch screen, and face ID.
The difference came down to the screen on the device. The iPhone XR had a cheaper LCD display. The iPhone XS was nearly identical to the X, but had some minor improvements to address a number of issues. Finally, the iPhone XS Max was essentially an iPhone XS Plus. The handset featured much of the same hardware, but included a much larger display.
Much debate has arisen over the naming of these devices.
Apple’s chief of marketing at the time states that he really liked sports cars. As such, these devices have very sports car like names. The call back to S series is just circumstantial he mentioned that the letters R and S are used in the auto space to highlight special models.
iPhone 11/11 Pro/11 Pro Max (2019)
Going back to traditional iPhone naming conventions the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max introduced a triple camera array. These models featured a wide and ultra-wide camera alongside new camera software and the new A13 bionics chip.
iPhone SE 2020 edition (2020)
Reintroducing the idea of a special edition, the iPhone SE 2020 took Apple’s second best selling iPhone of all time – the iPhone 8 – and reintroduced it with improved internal chips, such as the iPhone 11’s A13 Bionic chip to make a super powered iPhone 8 fit for 2020.
This was the first time that an iPhone had been released with a home button since 2017. It is almost identical to the 8 in it’s looks the only visual difference is the Apple logo is slightly higher up the back glass on the SE 2020 in comparison to the iPhone 8.
iPhone 12 Mini/12/12 Pro/12 Pro Max (2020)
The Flagship phone of last year was of course the iPhone 12, seeing the continuation of traditional naming.
However last year Apple introduced 4 variants of the flagship 12 for the first time since the iPhone 6, Apple’s best selling iPhone of all time.
The iPhone 12 is very similar to the iPhone 11, but has very large edge-to-edge screen. It has a rounded design similar to the iPhone 5. Furthermore, it featured a mini variant that was a very similar size to the iPhone 5. It also made use of 5G technology.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are identical to each other in almost every way. However, the iPhone 12 Pro has an additional 3rd camera. The iPhone 12 Pro Max of course has a much larger display, battery life and Pro camera software.
What does the future hold?
It’s likely that the next iPhone will not be the iPhone 13. This is due to 13 being a very unlucky number in many cultures and is very rarely used to denote the 13th edition of anything sold internationally.
It’s more likely that the next iPhone will be called the 12s or Apple will skip straight to 14 or simply change their naming pattern altogether once again.
There are also rumours that the next iPhone will see the removal of the lightning port and function entirely on wireless charging. Apple has removed the headphone jack from their devices before and has also been removing many “essential” ports from their MacBook’s for the past few years.
Therefore, it’s very likely that the next iPhone will be the very first true wireless phone. So, there is a chance that Apple may name it the iPhone wireless, iPhone Chi or something to do with this change in structure and use.
If you are looking to find out what iPhone you have you can check out our handy guide to identify the make and model of your device. This is useful for finding out if any of the hidden features we have discussed in previous guides are applicable to your device. It’s also very useful for finding a repair for your iPhone should you need to book one in through our site.