Apple ad man Ken Segall takes issue with Apple's iPhone naming scheme

Former Apple marketing head Ken Segall takes issue with Apple's iPhone naming scheme

While serving as the creative lead of TBWA/Chiat Day, Ken Segall oversaw the creative direction of Apple's marketing efforts. Credited as the man who put the 'i' in iMac, Segall worked very closely with Steve Jobs and helped oversee a number of memorable Apple ad campaigns, including the award-winning Think Different campaign.

Suffice it to say, when Segall has something to say about Apple's advertising efforts, it's typically worth paying attention to.

In a blogpost published last week, Segall opines on Apple's current iPhone naming scheme and let's just say he thinks Apple is shooting itself in the foot.

The press has already dubbed this year's model "iPhone 5S." Most experts see a narrative in which Apple only produces a major upgrade every other year, and in between we get the "S" model.


More important, tacking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our "off-year" product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise. But look what happened with iPhone 5.

Segall goes on to note that the iPhone 5, despite delivering a host of improvements in both software and hardware, was still criticized as being an incremental upgrade.

So instead, Segall suggests that Apple should just name each successive iPhone release with a new number and let the chips fall where they may. Let the consumer decide, Segall argues, the extent to which each new iPhone improves upon its predecessor.

It's an intriguing proposition which raises an interesting issue -- do people generally view "S" upgrades as middle-of-the-road improvements?

I myself have heard a few people mention plans to forgo an "S" upgrade and hold out for the next big number release. The underlying assumption is that "S" model iPhones offer less value than iPhone models that forgo the "S" moniker.

"I think it's safe to say," Segall writes, "that if you're looking for a new car, you're looking for a 2013 model - not a 2012S. What's important is that you get the latest and greatest."

Former Apple marketing head Ken Segall takes issue with Apple's iPhone naming scheme

If we look back at Apple's iPhone models, it does seem that the biggest enhancements have come in the form of numbered upgrades such as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. And, of course, let's not forget about the iPhone 3G which is often overlooked in the pantheon of iPhone models. While it may seem like eons ago, the iPhone 3G rescued us from a world of Edge and an iPhone without GPS.

In any event, the broader question remains: Is there merit to Segall's assertion that "slapping the "S" onto different models" has the unintended consequence of implying "that this model isn't worth an upgrade"?

While I'm inclined to agree with Segall in an abstract sense, iPhone sales figures paint a different picture. During this summer's Apple / Samsung trial, Phil Schiller noted that each iPhone release has sold more units than all previous models combined. So while we're a few months away from what will likely be the iPhone 5S, there's no getting around the fact that both the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S sold like hotcakes.

That said, there's no question that the "S" naming scheme may psychologically affect how consumers view a new iPhone model, but it's hard to argue that it has affected iPhone sales in a tangible way.

As a final point of interest, you might remember that the "S" in the iPhone 3GS stood for "speed." What's not as widely known, however, is that the "S" in the iPhone 4S stood for "Siri." Tim Cook admitted as much during a 2012 interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.