What will Apple call the next iPhone? You might think iPhone 7 is the obvious answer and natural progression following the current iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but reports that Apple is moving to a longer, three-year refresh cycle for iPhone updates could mean a change for branding this year. 

With Apple’s current schedule, we’d be in line to get a major upgrade this fall to the iPhone 7, with last year’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus being the in-between “S” year models. But on a three-year cycle major hardware upgrades will come every third year opposed to the every other year schedule Apple is currently on. Word has it that Apple could make that change starting with this year’s iPhone, meaning this fall’s iPhone could be a lesser upgrade and that a full-fledged iPhone 7 with notable hardware changes won’t arrive until 2017. But where does that leave Apple’s naming scheme for the device?

A report late last month from Japanese newspaper Nikkei claimed the next iPhone would look identical to the current design as Apple eyed 2017 for a major update. That report was backed up by The Wall Street Journal and others. Most seem to agree Apple is planning to ditch the headphone jack and offer some updated internals with the device as usual, but The Wall Street Journal report claimed other rumored hardware design updates like an embedded Touch ID sensor in the display, the removal of the physical home button, and an OLED display were planned for next year’s update and not the upcoming 2016 model. 

iPhone concept from ConceptsiPhone

There were also at least two reports referencing a “Pro” version for upcoming iPhones, which could add a third category to the current two model lineup creating a three model line (when not including color and capacities and the iPhone SE). Third lineup or not, Apple could bring over the “Pro” branding it uses for Macs and iPads to iPhone. One report was a leak earlier this month that claimed to show pricing for the next iPhone and capacities ranging from 32GB to 256GB, while another leak allegedly showed schematics for the device that also referenced “Pro” branding.

Apple could still call the next iPhone the “iPhone 7” of course, but that might create expectations of a notable upgrade, something it would likely want to avoid if it’s really changing to a three-year release schedule. And if it does have a really big iPhone update in the cards for 2017, it might not want to have that device be an “S” branded iPhone for the same reason.

We can possibly learn a bit from Apple’s branding of other recently introduced devices. The new MacBook is simply “MacBook”, while the fate of the aging “Air” branding for the MacBook is up in the air as we await updates. The iPad Air 2 as well might be on its way out completely as it was essentially replaced with the release of the rebranded 9.7-inch iPad Pro model earlier this year. Pro, on the other hand, would help tie in the iPhone branding with the iPads, with the iPhone SE being the lower-end model to the iPhone “Pro” models.  

Another possibility: Apple could just call it “the new iPhone” and distinguish models with screen size and year, i.e.. iPhone 4.7-inch (2016), much like it did with the 2016 MacBook or “the new iPad” for the third-generation iPad. 

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