There's near universal agreement that Steve Jobs is going to unveil the next iPhone at next week's Worldwide Developers' Conference keynote in San Francisco. Whether it's next week, next month, or next year, however, it raises a thorny semantic question: what will it be called? Most wags are dubbing it "the 3G iPhone," as it's certain to include the high-speed 3G (third-generation) wireless capabilities missing on the original model. But it's still going to be the second-generation iteration of the product--thus, "the 2G iPhone." Which one's correct?
The better question might be, "Why is the name of the keystone product from the company with the world's best branding even subject to debate?" And we wish we had an answer. The real problem here is that Apple products are effectively named by the community. Apple generally sticks with the most generic name possible--iPod, MacBook, iMac--and leaves it to the collective wisdom of the Internet to delineate the new ones from the old. For instance, the bulbous original iMac--with a built-in CRT monitor--is commonly referred to as the "bondi blue iMac," while today's sleek flat-panel version is generally known by its processor and screen size ("Core 2 Duo 24-inch iMac"). But to Apple, both the 1998 and 2008 iMacs are simply known as "the Apple iMac." Not very SEO-friendly, as we'd say--especially if you're looking for support or repair info online.
To be sure, the iPod line is broken into specific model types--the Shuffle, the Nano, the Classic, and so forth--but within those lines, the confusion persists. As a result, we have the generational ("G") designation. If you're iPod Nano has a plastic enclosure, it's a 1G model; the 2G iPod Nano has a metal casing, but the same basic design; and the 3G "fat Nano"--the current generation--was the first one with video playback support. It can get pretty confusing--especially when compared to Apple's software, which is blessed with triple decimal specificity (iTunes 126.96.36.199).
Back to the iPhone--the new model will effectively be "the 2G iPhone with 3G wireless." It will also undoubtedly be running the 2.0 software that Apple previewed earlier this year. But to really confuse matters, that 2.0 software upgrade will certainly be available to first-gen iPhones--so we'll likely have millions of 1G iPhones with 2.5G wireless (EDGE) running the 2.0 software, as well as a new crop of 2G/3G/2.0 iPhones as well. In other words: read the fine print on those eBay listings very carefully when you see a good deal on an "iPhone 2.0."
So, what will we call this thing? I think "3G iPhone" will probably be the most common terminology--it's the term people are searching on Google. But it won't really matter--for most people, the fact that it's "the new iPhone" will be all the description that's needed. Of course, things could get confusing once the third-generation iPhone eventually hits...but that's a Wikipedia fight for another day.
What do you think: should the next iPhone be called the "2G iPhone" or the "3G iPhone?" Or should Apple start using more descriptive model names and numbers for its products?