Why there won't be an iPhone 5

With the third-gen iPad released, speculators' attention is turning again to iPhone rumors -- and missing the deeper shift

Here we go again. The iPhone 5 will have a large screen more like that of the Android flagship, the Galaxy Nexus. Or maybe it won't. According to all the gossip, it will have an LTE 4G radio, just like the new iPad.

As always, the rumor mill is a mix of highly suspect blogger fantasies and "duh" predictions, such as the inclusion of 4G. But let me be the first to tell you that whatever the next iPhone features, it won't be the name "iPhone 5."

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I predict that the iPhone 4S is the last numbered iPhone, and the next model will simply be the iPhone. Apple long ago dropped version numbers for its Mac and iPod hardware. The Apple TV never got them in the first place. The latest iPad drops the numbering for that product line. All that's left is the iPhone, and you can bet it too will join the versionless set.

The reason is simple: There's no need for numbers. The Mac and iPod are mature product lines, and although there are incremental hardware changes, plus occasional innovations such as last year's introduction of the Thunderbolt bus technology, what matters more is the line they belong to: MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Pro, iPod Classic, iPod Nano, or iPod Touch. When people need to distinguish among models in a line, they refer to the generation (such as third-gen iPod Touch) or year (such as the early 2011 MacBook Pro). The iPhone is as mature as the iPod Touch, and the iPad looks to be set for some years in its current basic configuration.

Apple understands that the deep value is in the ecosystem, not the box that runs it, and the importance for owners of all models to feel current. It doesn't really matter whether your MacBook Pro is from 2009 or 2011 but whether it runs OS X Lion and iCloud. Ditto on mobile devices, where iOS 5 and iCloud compatibility is the major advantage.

Last fall's iPhone debacle -- when the crescendo of hysterical rumors created a brief media, blogger, and stockholder backlash against the iPhone 4S because it didn't fulfill bloggers' "iPhone 5" fantasies -- no doubt cemented Apple's decision to get rid of such version-based naming, to lessen the chances of any such label again turning into poisoned apple.

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