Welcome to our weekend Apple Breakfast column, which includes all of the Apple news you missed this week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
What’s in a name?
It’s T-minus four days for Apple’s Far Out event, and the last-minute rumors are coming thick and fast. Theories we’ve regarded as settled facts for the best part of a year are suddenly crumbling–such as the hole and pill actually being a bar, and the iPhone 14 Max actually being the iPhone 14 Plus. Next thing you know they’ll be telling us there’s no iPhone and Craig Federighi has a sensible haircut.
Given enough time to get used to it, almost any theory starts to sound reasonable, which is why the late rumors create such cognitive dissonance. If pundits had predicted in late 2021 that the larger non-Pro handset would be branded as the iPhone 14 Plus, however, we’d now see that as the logical choice. Which, on reflection, it probably is.
Apple’s brand families are a mess. Gone are the days when Steve Jobs would plan out the Mac range using a simple two-by-two grid with desktop and portable on the Y axis and consumer and pro on the X; for Apple, “Pro” now sometimes means designed for professional users, as in the Mac Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and sometimes just means the more expensive version of a still obviously consumer-focused product, such as the AirPods Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Worse still, Pro isn’t even the top option–or isn’t always the top option. In ascending order of processing power, Apple’s M1 chip variants are branded as standard, Pro, Max, and then Ultra (with a further Extreme variant rumored to slot in at the top when the Mac Pro gets the Apple Silicon treatment). And if you object that “Max” is short for “maximum” and by definition needs to be the top choice, you’re clearly not Apple management material.
You can see why Apple might view it as problematic for the iPhone 14 Max to be a lower-specced handset than the iPhone 14 Pro, given that both the dictionary and the company’s own processor system clearly indicate it ought to be better. Hence the choice of iPhone 14 Plus to label a device that is bigger, but not better:
iPhone 14 Plus
iPhone 14 Pro
iPhone 14 Pro Max
But is this an appreciably less confusing system? Assuming the iPhone 13 mini remains on sale, tech newbies who’d like to buy an iPhone this fall will face a range that uses four different suffixes to indicate variants of size and spec: mini (meaning small), Max (meaning large), Plus (also meaning large), and Pro (meaning better and more expensive). It’s reminiscent of 2000s-era observational comedy about Starbucks (“Why can’t I just ask for a small coffee?!”), and a recipe for bafflement.
Apple knows its marketing, and I am reluctant to second-guess the company’s branding plans for what will clearly be another monstrously successful product launch. But part of me does wonder if the complexity of the iPhone range might make this the moment to start using slightly more transparent words to describe its variations. If 2000s-comedian words like “small” and “large” are too unmagical, Apple could at least settle on a consistent hierarchy of words used to denote processing power–preferably one that doesn’t place Max roughly halfway up–and simply list the screen sizes rather than adding even more suffixes.
iPhone 13 (5 inches)
iPhone 13 (6 inches)
iPhone 14 (6 inches)
iPhone 14 (7 inches)
iPhone 14 Pro (6 inches)
iPhone 14 Pro (7 inches)
It works for Macs. The 14-inch MacBook Pro is actually 14.2 inches and the 24-inch iMac is actually 23.5 inches. But no one complains or misunderstands. And funnily enough, this is pretty much how Apple sells iPhones when you visit its online store: you either click on the standard or Pro model, then choose a size. And I fail to see how anyone other than the marketing department benefits from the additional confusion of words like mini, Max and Plus.
But the marketing department does benefit, of course. The extra words are not just there to tell you what size your phone is going to be: they are miniature adverts to reinforce the idea that it’s portable, or large, or that using it makes you a professional. The words aren’t there to help us, but to persuade us. And barring another last-minute rumor, that’s not something that’s about to change.
Apple’s big “Far Out” event is coming! What can we expect to see? We know we’ll see the iPhone 14, but what else? New Apple Watches? How about an update to the AirPods Pro? We talk about the upcoming Far Out event in this episode of the Macworld Podcast!
And with that, we’re done for this week. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter for breaking news stories. See you next Saturday, enjoy your weekend, and stay Appley.