Are iPhone model names confusing buyers?

Apple needs to simplify iPhone naming

First, in 2017, there was the X (as in “ten”), the first iPhone not to use traditional digits in its name.

Then, earlier this year, Apple released a trio of speedier, hipper phones with some most unfortunate names: the XR, XS and XS Max.

To add to this fun alphabet soup is the fact that Apple uses stylized marks for the “R” and “S” across its marketing materials. Translating those into normal words as found across the tech blogosphere is up to some interpretation, yielding inconsistency.

But the biggest problem here is that it’s just way too confusing for buyers.

I’m guessing many conversations at the Apple Store start with the sales rep telling the backstory of the “X” to lay the groundwork for the new XR and XS and XS Max. Then, of course, the potential buyer wants to see all 3 side-by-side. That show (accompanied by some familiar background music courtesy of Feist) is then followed by a 30-minute discussion about the differences. Comparisons and tests ensue. A sale? Maybe not.

Given the poor sales of the XR and XS iPhones, CEO Tim Cook and team have reportedly assigned some additional staff to sort things out — i.e. to boost sales, especially during the critical holiday selling season.

One thing Apple staff can do is to reduce the (ridiculous) prices. Bundles with accessories could help. 1 year subscriptions to Apple Music and the like could entice more buyers. And so on.

My suggestion going forward for the iPhone marketing team is to simplify.

Please make the model names intuitive. Two adjacent letters do little to explain on their own.

Samsung makes it nice and easy. You have the Galaxy S9. And if you want the larger version you get the Galaxy S9 Plus. Easy enough. Or if you want a stylus and like idea of note-taking and drawing on your mobile device, then consider the aptly named Galaxy Note 9. Samsung’s team provides one easy to understand line of Android phones that, most importantly, remains consistently named year over year, so consumers know what they’re upgrading to each time they put money down on a new phone.

Google, too, keeps it simple. There’s the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. Small or big? There you go, have a nice day.

Cleaning up naming for future launches won’t help Apple this holiday season, but the team should do all they can to simplify the messaging in the meantime. As soon as possible they should get rid of the “X” moniker and stick to number-based naming convention. iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Plus. And perhaps keep the iPhone XS as the new budget model when the time is right. Make the features and updated hardware the center of attention, not the product naming.

I’m still running an iPhone 7 Plus. Now that I added a cheap QI receiver I can charge it wirelessly at home and the office (once you have it there’s no going back to charging cords). I see little need to upgrade to a slick new XS, the still worthy X, or even an 8 Plus. My 2 year old phone is good enough. I can read mail, do social stuff, scan news, take photos, etc. What am I missing from the new models, aside from insane prices and minor performance increases? This is the industry’s dirty little secret. And, word is getting out. Two-, three-, maybe even four-, year old phones are typically good enough, even now in 2018.

Getting consumers to upgrade is a challenge not only for Apple, but also for Samsung, and everybody else that rolls out new phone on an annual cycle.

But bad naming — as in Apple XR, XS and XS Max — certainly doesn’t make the buying process any easier.

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