Any modern technology company that sells more than a dozen products usually ends up with a naming problem. Traditional PCs have horrible names, memorable only because of how bad they are. Asus D550MAV-DB01 comes to mind (no it doesn’t; I had to look it up).
Apple has a better product naming history than most hardware makers, but still has some legacy issues that need to be addressed. iTunes is a good example. Back in the day iTunes was the Mac app you used to Rip. Mix. Burn. CDs and manage your music playlist. Today, iTunes is a mega media mall in need of a facelift and a new name. It’s not just ‘tunes’ anymore, Apple.
iThink, Therefore, iAM
With apologies to Rene Descartes, Apple was spot on with the simple naming convention given to the iMac back in 1998. It was the internet Mac, a cute but powerful device which was easy to setup and use.
That simple name was descriptive, but also started the plague iEverything devices that haunts Apple to this day. iTunes. iPod. iPhone, iPad, not to mention iPhoto, iWeb, iMovie, and iWork. It was the naming convention from hell. An expected pattern that also brought criticism and derision, but spawned the iTouch, iTV, and iWatch.
Thankfully, Apple is working toward breaking the pattern of names with elegant simplicity. iPhoto is gone, replaced by Photos. iWork is gone, replace by individual app names. iCal is now just Calendar. iMessage on the Mac is just Messages.
Under CEO Tim Cook’s reign, Apple has increased its predictability. WWDC in the late spring ushers in new versions of OS X and iOS (there it is again; a vestige from the iEverything era). Late summer brings new iPhones, which now suffer from predictability and a fork of the iEverything problem.
Every other year Apple unveils an iPhone ‘s’ model. This year it was the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. What does the ‘s’ mean? Actually, not much. Most years the iPhone’s case is changed the year following an ‘s’ year. Some thought the ‘s’ naming model was the year Apple didn’t offer many substantial improvements; the so-called ‘tick tock’ method of major advancements one year, lesser advancements the next.
Thanks to Touch ID, 3D Touch, 12MP camera, and more, that doesn’t work anymore. It’s not a tick tock proposition as much as it is a steady if not accelerating incremental improvement schedule.
So, why the ‘s’ monicker every other year?
Apple needs a way to differentiate this year’s models from last year’s models and the ‘s’ does that. Wait. What about the Mac? There’s no ‘s’ model there. There’s no iPad Air S or iPad mini S, or iMac S, or Apple TV S, so why bother with the ‘s’ at all?
Note that the average upgrade cycle– the period where customers ditch, sell, or hand-me-down their old products to buy a new one varies by product. iPhones are upgraded probably twice as often as the average Mac. Not only that, the state of the smartphone industry is advancing rapidly while the Mac gets mostly incremental upgrades, and customers are apt to be less enticed by a Mac with an ‘S’ monicker than an iPhone. Both the model number and the ‘S’ signify new and different, and that’s more important for smartphone users than Mac or iPad customers.
Customers, critics, and industry watchers look forward to upgrades of smartphones than any other technology device and that’s not likely to change until the next great thing.
It’s not going to be Watch or Apple TV that changes the world (both are accessories). Frankly, I’ll be impressed if Apple ditches iTunes or iMac, and I’d be disappointed if we could walk into an Apple Store and walk out with a MacBook ‘S’ model, but I view the ‘S’ as a generational signifier where the generation is two years before a significant redesign, but the new features are incremental, year after year.
Way, way back in the day my father used to visit local car dealerships every fall because that’s when manufacturers revealed their new models. And every year the style of each model was different than the last. These days automobile designs go through generations which last a few years before a redesign. That’s what Apple does. ‘S’ is merely a good way to identify the differences within the same generation ‘6’ models.