Apple’s iPhone 4S Disaster: What’s In A Name?

October 5, 2011

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
— Juliet, from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

Forget research and development. The most difficult task when creating a new tech product is giving it a proper name. You don’t believe me? Not only did the Microsoft Zune die yesterday,  the Apple empire damn near collapsed when new Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S and not the iPhone 5, despite expectations of the latter by consumers and the media.

Cook introduced a new iPhone, sure, but it didn’t carry the pizzazz we are looking for in an iPhone 5. Although the iPhone 4S looks like the iPhone 4, it boasts several new features that put it streets ahead of its predecessor, including:

  • A dual core A5 processor
  • An 8-megapixel camera capable of shooting 1080p HD video
  • Siri, a deeply integrated voice-command system
  • …Wait — that’s about it, actually

And that’s why Apple called it the iPhone 4S. If the iPhone 4 was a movie, the 4S would be the original with bonus footage, not a sequel.

I, for one, am relieved Apple didn’t overhaul the iPhone. Like most tech consumers, I agonize over buying the latest devices because it’s a short matter of time before something comes along and makes it obsolete. I’m an unwavering Apple loyalist, but the iPhone 4S isn’t compelling enough to make me upgrade from my iPhone 4. I suspect a lot of people find themselves in a similar place.

What if it had been named the iPhone 5? I admit, I may have been more impressed. I may have upgraded, even while my iPhone 4 is just 16 months old and runs like new.

Apple has an extremely bizarre public relations disaster on its hands, and it all started with a name.

See, Apple never implied it was delivering an entirely new iteration of the iPhone to be named the iPhone 5. That was an assumption made by irresponsible tech media and believed by overzealous consumers. (Tech media’s infatuation with reporting rumors is appalling.)

Instead, Apple, as it had done with the iPhone 3G and 3GS, chose to name its new iPhone the 4S because it utilized the same shape as the previous model with a handful of improvements. Had Apple ignored its own process of naming devices and called this new model the iPhone 5, APPL stock wouldn’t have dropped four percent below opening prices, consumers wouldn’t have been up in arms and tech bloggers wouldn’t have poured kerosene on the very mess they helped create.

Where did Apple go wrong?

It didn’t manage expectations. Over the past few months, nary an Apple employee acknowledged the iPhone 5 wasn’t coming (yet). Apple allowed the legend to become bigger than its actual innovation, the iPhone 4S. Top-secret operations might be Apple’s M.O., but on Tuesday, when Cook pulled the curtain back on the iPhone 4S, consumers and media weren’t disappointed in what it was, but rather, what it wasn’t.

When it lands, the iPhone 4S might just be the best smartphone on the market for the next year. But because it was named the iPhone 4S, a considerable amount of consumers will pass on purchasing as they continue to wait for the illusive iPhone 5.

What’s in a name? As Apple found out the hard way yesterday, everything.

UPDATED FRIDAY, OCT. 7, 3:48 P.M.: So, I caved. I just pre-ordered the iPhone 4S. It wasn’t the Apple hype machine, though, I swear! A little thank you to the memory of Steve Jobs? Sure.

Actually, I took advantage of a great offer through eBay, so I was able to move my iPhone 4 for roughly the same cost of an iPhone 4S.

Hey, we’ve all got our vices.