Apple had shown a growing tendency to delay or make vague promises about when it will deliver new products.
- The latest example is with its HomePod smart speaker, which it was supposed to release next month but now won’t be available until next year.
The vague and broken promises could lead to consumer confusion and lost sales.
When it comes to releasing new products, Apple has had trouble of late making firm promises and living up to them.
When unveiling new gadgets, it’s frequently been hard to pin down about when they will actually ship. It’s repeatedly delayed new products, even past those vague projections. And when it has released new products on time, it sometimes has shipped them in extraordinarily limited quantities or with critical features not working.
The results have been consumer confusion — and potentially lost sales.
The latest example of Apple struggling to meet its promises came on Friday when it delayed the release of its new HomePod smart speaker. After previously saying it would release the new device next month, Apple now says the HomePod won’t be available until early next year.
That means Apple will miss the critical holiday season, when scads of smart speakers are likely to be sold.
“It’s a tough miss for Apple — there are surely going to be a lot of Amazon Echo devices under Christmas trees this year,” wrote John Gruber, an Apple blogger widely read by the company’s employees.
A string of vague and broken promises
But the HomePod delay is only the latest example of Apple having a tough time making promises and sticking to them.
In June, at the same time it unveiled the HomePod, the company announced Apple Pay Cash, a service that will allow iPhone users to send each other money via the company’s Messages app. That service was originally supposed to launch with iOS 11, which Apple released in September. But Apple delayed it too. While the company is now beta testing the service, it hasn’t said when, exactly, Apple Pay Cash will become available.
Other recent promises the company still hasn’t fulfilled: the release of an Amazon Prime video app for its Apple TV streaming media player, which Apple announced in June; and the integration of live sports programming into the TV app on Apple TV and the iPhone, which it demonstrated in September.
Last year, Apple delayed the release of another high-profile product — the AirPods, its futuristic wireless headphones. Although the company eventually released them in time for the holiday season, they hit store shelves six weeks later than it initially promised and were available in such limited quantities that Apple couldn’t meet holiday demand.
And that’s not all. The company has also announced series of products that have little better than vague release dates, if they have one at all. Among them: the iMac Pro, a souped-up desktop computer (due out sometime next month); the AirPower wireless charging mat for the new iPhones (sometime in 2018); and the new Mac Pro professional desktop computer (no release date).
The delays and vague promises could be due to strategy — or hubris
It’s not exactly clear why Apple has had such trouble making and keeping its product promises of late, and the company declined to comment. But the company does seem to have departed from its prior practices, although it’s seen delays or non-specific dates in the past.
Tim Cook, the company’s CEO, made his name in operations management — making sure partners, manufacturers, and factories can deliver millions of Apple products on time. Ensuring that Apple could make firm commitments to customers in terms of when particular products would be available and sticking to those promises was his specialty.
It could be that the change is due to shifting management priorities since Cook moved from being Apple’s chief operating officer to its CEO. It could also be that his replacement as COO, Jeff Williams, just isn’t as good as he was.
It’s also possible that Apple’s vague, sometimes overly ambitious promises are actually strategic moves by the company. By announcing products early, it could be attempting to sabotage sales of rival products. Apple fans who are interested in a buying a smart speaker may hold off on buying one of Amazon’s Echo devices or one of Google’s Home gadgets this holiday season, because they know the HomePod is due out soon.
Another possibility is that the early announcements and vague shipping dates are a product of the pressure Apple is feeling from investors and Wall Street who are looking for the next big thing from the company. The announcements could be a way of appeasing the stock market and a way to show the company is continuing to innovate.
That’s the take of at least one app developer, anyway:
But the vague promises and delays could also be a product of Apple’s confidence and ambition. The company has in the past set numerous ambitious goals for itself in terms of developing and releasing new products — and shipping them in awesome quantities at launch. Despite the challenges, it’s often made incredible feats of manufacturing happen. It could be, though, that those successes have led to overconfidence.
And it could just be that Apple is responding to the reality that it’s really hard to keep things secret these days, especially when you’re a company as big as it is with as many partners and employees as it has and which manufactures products on an enormous scale. It may be that the company is announcing products to get ahead of the leaks so it can still surprise consumers — and then working out the mass production details later.
Confusing customers and losing sales
Regardless of the reasons, the company’s increasing trouble with making and meeting promises could have real consequences both now and in the future.
Take the smart-speaker market, for example. Smart home speakers are expected to be a popular holiday gift this year. Amazon, which dominates the market, has a whole new line of smart speakers to entice consumers with this holiday season. So too does Google, Amazon’s chief challenger to date. Because of the HomePod delay, consumers who are determined to buy a smart speaker for a gift this holiday season won’t be getting one from Apple.
That may not matter much in the short term. Analysts are bullish on Apple’s prospects for the holiday quarter thanks to its new iPhones. But the HomePod’s delay could have longer term consequences.
Each new Apple product customers buy tends to tie them closer to the company’s ecosystem — and typically makes them more likely to buy additional Apple products in the future. By not having the HomePod available for sale yet, Apple misses out on that opportunity. Worse, customers who choose to buy an Amazon or Google smart speaker instead may be a little less bound to Apple’s environment and a little less likely to buy additional products in the future.
For example, HomePod is likely to increase demand for Apple Music, because it will only work seamlessly with Apple’s streaming music service. Someone who buys a Google or Amazon speaker may end up opting for rivals like Spotify instead.
More broadly, the vague and broken promises risk confusing and potentially disappointing customers.
One of Apple’s key selling points for its new iPhones is the AirPower charging mat. The device sound great; users will be able to use it to charge an Apple watch, iPhone and AirPods all at the same time without having to use a cable to plug any of them in. But despite its clear prominence on Apple’s website and in its ads, the charging mat isn’t available yet.
That’s a mixed message from Apple — touting a product consumers won’t actually be able to buy anytime soon. And it may leave consumers feeling like their devices themselves aren’t living up to Apple’s promises.
Additionally, while Apple’s unveiling of products like the AirPower long before they’re available may lead some consumers to hold on buying rival products, the practice might eventually backfire. If Apple becomes known for delaying new devices or announcing them long before they’re ready, customers may start buying competitors’ products that are available right then and there.
The iPhone X shows Apple can deliver
To be sure, Apple has shown the ability — even recently — of being able to make and meet ambitious promises, most notably with the iPhone X.
Apple’s new flagship smartphone is reportedly extremely difficult to manufacture. Because of that, some analysts speculated before its launch that the company was going to have to significantly delay shipping it, or have only very small numbers of devices available when it hit store shelves.
Initially, the company seemed like it might to live down to those expectations. It didn’t start selling the iPhone X until two months after it announced the device. And when the iPhone X did go on sale, supply was indeed short, with units backordered for weeks.
But a few weeks later, it looks as if Apple has largely ameliorated the problems. Several people have reported that the company has actually moved up the expected shipping dates of their phones; instead of getting an iPhone X in December, they expect to get one this month. And if you order an iPhone X from Apple today, the company says it can get the device to you by Christmas.
Lately, though, the iPhone X seems to be the exception, not the rule. And Apple’s growing number of vague and broken promises may end up catching up with the company.
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This is Tim Cook’s Achilles heel — he let’s Wall Street pressure get to him — he announces and ships prematurely.
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