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Nobody can explain what the 'R' in Apple's new iPhone XR stands for — and the latest theory is that even Apple doesn't know (AAPL)

Sean Wolfe
iPhone XS and XS Max

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  • Apple hasn't explained what the 'R' and 'S' stand for in its latest iPhone lineup, the iPhone XS and XR.
  • Apple rarely does — the last time it did was 2009, during the launch of the iPhone 3GS, where an exec explained the 'S' in '3GS' stood for 'speed.'
  • But with Apple's iPhone naming strategy becoming increasingly complicated and unclear, a new theory from prominent Apple blogger John Gruber speculates that the 'R' in iPhone XR doesn't actually stand for anything, and was chosen for its overall look when it comes to branding and the fact that 'R' comes right before 'S' in the alphabet. 

You're not the only one who's confused about Apple's recent naming conventions with the new iPhone lineup — and the latest theory is that the company itself doesn't really know what the "R" in the iPhone XR stands for.

Apple usually chooses not to comment on what the letters in the iPhone names mean, except for the 'S' in '3GS,' which the company said stands for "speed" — but that was in 2009 when the iPhone 3GS was announced. Since then, the 'S' in iPhone titles have been understood to signify under-the-hood performance upgrades over a previous model, instead of a design change. And as Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber noted, the 'C' in '5C' was widely inferred to stand for "color," although Apple never explicitly confirmed that.

In a new blog post on his website Daring Fireball, Gruber theorized that even Apple itself might not know exactly what the "R" in iPhone XR stands for — and he thinks it simply chose the name based on what sounds, and looks, best:

"Here’s my genuine guess. The R doesn’t stand for any particular word. I can’t even think of any words starting with R that describe the iPhone XR. I think Apple thinks “iPhone XR” looks cool, sounds cool, and because R immediately precedes S in the alphabet, it subtly implies the XR’s place in the product lineup — it’s less than an XS but only just so."

Apple declined to comment on any meaning behind the new iPhone titles to Business Insider when asked last week. Gruber writes that he encountered the same thing, and the only answer he received from Apple about the names was “We don’t like to talk about what the letters mean.”

So, at least for now, you probably shouldn't expect Apple to shed any light on the thinking behind the branding of its new iPhone lineup.

Gruber also doesn't think Apple will mind that the 'X' in their phone titles will likely be pronounced as a letter, instead of the Roman numeral 'ten,' which is how Apple officially has said it's supposed to be pronounced.

"My only guess — and again, a genuine guess, because I’m telling you, they do not like to talk about why they choose the product names they do — is that they don’t care that millions of people will pronounce them ex-arr and ex-ess. They don’t care that ex-esssounds like “excess” even though it’s used in the name of a cell phone that costs almost $1500. They think the X’s look cool and they go with their guts and that’s all there is to it."

You can read Gruber's full blog post over at Daring Fireball.

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