With a massive screen behind him displaying the text, “iPhone X” Tim Cook hopped on the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater during Apple’s September 12 launch event and proclaimed, “This is the iPhone ten.”
Apple consumers across the globe have been in a tizzy ever since, and not just over the souped-up phone, but over how on earth to pronounce its name.
The “X” refers to the Roman numeral 10, not the letter of the alphabet, and is supposed to mark the ten-year anniversary of the release of the original iPhone. But the diction dictate from Apple and its mandarins does not appear to be getting through to the masses.
Whether out of confusion, personal preference or mere stubbornness, many people, it seems, prefer to call the new iPhone the “Ecks,” like the letter.
I will call it the iPhone X (like "ecks", not 10) if I want to. Don't use Roman numerals if you don't want some confusion.
— Katie Loveluck (@katie_levans) September 12, 2017
The $999 iPhone X doesn’t hit store shelves until November 3, but with a massive marketing machine and press cycle already swinging into action, the norms and customs that will define the new phone’s identity are being established now.
With that in mind, we took to the streets of San Francisco to see if we could find out what the general public has decided to call Apple’s new phone.
- REUTERS/Mike Segar
Our first stop was at the Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square.
The first customer we queried was browsing a display of phone cases, and quickly responded that the phone was called the “iPhone Ecks.” He immediately started second guessing himself but eventually settled on his original pronunciation. The next shopper knew it was supposed to be pronounced as the number ten, but said using ‘X’ was much more natural.
Early lunchers at a nearby park had a different perspective. An avid Apple user said she called it the ten, but thought it was funny Apple had decided to use the ‘X’ symbol in all the marketing. A man at a table nearby had watched Cook at the Apple event and called it ten ever since.
We decided to head to a few close-by wireless service provider retail stores to see what the people selling the phones and interacting with customers all day had to say.
At the Verizon store, general manager Ryan Gish said, “Everyone’s been calling it the ten. I’ve called it the ‘X’ a couple times but been corrected, I know it’s supposed to be called the ten.”
Daniela Contreras, a T-Mobile sales representative, had a different interpretation, saying that all of her customers had been calling it the “X.” She reasoned that since the X was the Roman numeral representing 10, it was supposed to be called the X.
Influence of text news over audio/video news: not met one person asking about ‘iPhone ten’; they ask about ‘iPhone Ecks’. #iphoneX
— Adrian Weckler (@adrianweckler) September 15, 2017
Snafu or masterstroke?
It’s not the first time Apple has burdened its customers with uncertainty and angst over its product names. Before it changed to macOS, Apple called its desktop operating systems Mac OS X. The company eventually dropped the X to make its computer operating system more in line with iOS, watchOS, and tvOS products.
Whether the iPhone X name ends up being a clever marketing move or a branding snafu for future business school textbooks remains to be seen.
- Justin Sullivan / Staff
If the Ecks pronunciation sticks, it could actually save Apple from another potential branding headache: Given that both the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 10 models are available this year, what will become of 9? Will Apple try to drum up excitement for an iPhone 9 next September, a year after the iPhone 10 came out? Or will an iPhone 9 never see the light of day, like a lost manuscript that gains mythical status over the years?
Ryan, an employee at a San Francisco AT&T store, had just gotten back from vacation and said he’d been the calling the new phone the “Ecks,” until it had dawned on him that since all the other iPhones had been numbered, it made no sense that Apple would suddenly switch to letters.
Brandon Iaacson, the manager at the AT&T store, acknowledged that the official pronunciation was ten. But he hadn’t made a habit of correcting wayward customers.
“It’s called the 10 but customers say Ecks,” he explained, “and we just roll with it.”
Even well-known tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee gave up on the correct pronunciation.
3 weeks ago I was legit correcting people who said “iPhone X” instead of “iPhone 10”
… I’ve given up now. Everyone says X.
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) October 31, 2017
An earlier version of this story appeared on September 28.