There has been a recent uptick in discussion about Apple's rumored “low-end” iPhone, which seems all but certain to be announced at their upcoming September 10th event. I find the low-end iPhone an interesting product and a great way to unify the iPhone product line. John Gruber wrote a great post laying out the potential strategy for Apple:
If Apple does unveil an iPhone 5C, I expect them to concurrently abandon the iPhones 4 and 4S. Their three pricing tiers for the next year would be a new iPhone 5S at the high end, today’s iPhone 5 in the mid-range, and the new 5C at the low end. This way, all new iPhones would sport 16:9 aspect ratio displays, and all would have Lightning adapter ports. Adios both to 3:2 displays and the grody old 30-pin port.
I agree with this assessment, although the thing that bothers me most are the names Apple is rumored to be using. Having three iPhones named 5, 5S, and 5C is potentially confusing to consumers. I realize Apple already have the 4, 4S, and 5 for sale right now, but I think that also is confusing, and I've fielded a number of questions from non-geek friends and family to explain the differences between the iPhone numbers. If every iPhone had “5” in the name, but only a single letter differentiating them, I think the confusion would be even greater. I've personally gotten a little confused when reading articles talking about both the iPhone 5S and 5C, having to remember which is which.1
So, what should Apple name the new iPhones?
First of all, I think Apple should name the new high-end model simply the iPhone instead of the iPhone 5S. Apple has already done this with the iPads, removing the number designation from the new models. While it might cause some geek confusion in referring to older models, I think most consumers like the simplicity. Apple should also get rid of the current iPhone 5 altogether and simply have a high-end version and low-end version. In terms of the low-end version, I think using an actual word instead of a number would clear up a lot of confusion. A number of ideas went through my head, but I think the most natural fit would be the "iPhone Light."
Think of it this way - imagine a lively, colorful commercial for the new low-end iPhone ending with either the words iPhone 5C or iPhone Light. To me, iPhone Light just seems to fit better. Calling it the iPhone 5C seems obscure and doesn't indicate how it's different from the regular iPhone.2 However, I think consumers would immediately understand what iPhone Light means. It's a much more evocative name that stands out in one’s mind and fits well with the lighter look and feel of the new iPhone and iOS 7. It also matches the naming conventions of Apple's other products - the iPad Mini, the iPod Nano, the Macbook Air, etc.
If Apple took this direction, a person going into an Apple store to buy an iPhone would simply have two choices - an iPhone or an iPhone Light. Most people, without needing explanation, would understand that the iPhone Light is a lower cost and more stripped down version of the regular iPhone. The iPhone product line would become simplified and clean, and you would eliminate a lot of confusion. I hope Apple decides to go in this direction and the 5C name is simply a rumor.
1. I also fear Apple is slipping ever so slightly into the past when their computers carried endless number variations to differentiate models. Think about the Performa line of computers that had such designations as 275, 450, 475, 476, 630-638, 5200, 6200, etc.↩
2. The speculation is the C will stand for color, as in the various colors the new phones will come in. However, I assume many jokes will be made about the C standing for cheap.↩