Late last week, Apple announced that it was delaying the release of the HomePod, the company’s Siri-based smart speaker that was initially slated to launch in December. Apple didn’t give a specific reason for the delay, only stating that it needs “a little more time before it’s ready for our customers.” In turn, Apple said that we can expect the HomePod — which promises to deliver a premium acoustic experience — to launch sometime in early 2018.
The HomePod delay is unfortunate, especially given that early impressions of the device at WWDC this past June were overwhelmingly positive, if not downright enthusiastic. In the wake of Apple pushing back the HomePod launch, some folks seized upon the opportunity to, surprise surprise, trot out the oft-repeated and tired narrative that Apple is not the unique beacon of innovation and operational wizardry that it once was.
Now to be fair, Apple has missed a few deadlines in recent memory. The HomePod aside, you might also recall that Apple’s AirPods were also subject to delays last year. Still, is this reason to believe that Apple is quickly transforming into your run of the mill tech company?
Writing for ZDNet, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes seems to think so:
Whatever the reason, pencilling in a launch date for a product only to later kick it into the future feels careless at best. It hints that there’s pressure within Apple to announce and unveil products that are far from ready for market, and that suggests that Apple’s desire to push new products out of the door is outstripping its capacity to keep to schedules
As much as I don’t want to bring up the tired old “Apple wouldn’t have done this under Steve Jobs’ watch” trope, a lot of what’s happening at Apple lately is different from what the [sic] came to expect under Jobs. Not to say that things didn’t go wrong under his watch, but product announcements and launches felt a lot tighter for sure, as did the overall quality of what Apple was releasing.
With each passing year Apple slips further towards being “just another tech company.”
There are a few things to unpack here. First off, Apple’s shipping estimates have, in fact, been way off base recently. There’s no disputing that. What remains unclear is what’s behind the missed deadlines. Is Apple, as some have articulated, being pressured by Wall St. into announcing products before they’re ready and, in turn, subjecting its engineers to untenable release schedules?
It’s possible, but Apple only releases products when they are fully baked and ready to go, initial launch schedules be damned. If anything, the delays speak to Apple’s commitment towards ensuring a positive user experience even if it means frustrating eager buyers. Sure, no one appreciates getting amped up for a product release only to see reports of delays, but as we saw with the AirPods launch last year, once a new Apple product hits store shelves, consumers can’t snatch them up quick enough. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Apple’s AirPods enjoy a 98% customer satisfaction rating, which in my estimation, justifies the 2-month shipping delay.
What’s the alternative here? For Apple to release a product before its ready to go? Surely no one would advocate that position. So what’s the only other option? For Apple to keep its mouth shut until it knows with absolute certainty that it can meet a scheduled deadline? That’s a viable solution, but then Apple, as we’ve seen in the past, will come under attack for not innovating fast enough.
Indeed, Kingsley-Hughes in a previous piece criticizes Apple for not replacing the iPhone with another money making device.
Apple is an oddity. It’s a company that’s doing remarkably well, but over the past ten years it hasn’t had a product that comes close to replacing the iPhone as its cash cow, which means that it has to find ever more inventive ways to make a smartphone feel new, different, or at least a little exciting.
That’s funny, more than 95% of Google’s revenue still comes from ad-based search; why isn’t the search giant ever taken to task for not coming up with a product capable of replacing the search engine? It’s the old Apple double standard rearing its ugly head again, but I digress.
As for the notion that delays like this are far more commonplace under the Tim Cook era, I think that misses the bigger picture. Remember the white iPhone 4 which was delayed for nine months? Remember the iPhone 4s which launched in October as opposed to June because Apple was busy working out some kinks related to Siri? Remember the delay of OS X Leopard because Apple was too busy working on the original iPhone? Truth be told, delays aren’t a new phenomenon unique to the Tim Cook era.
All things told, Apple under Tim Cook has shipped its most important products on time, which is to say Apple’s iPhone business continues to run like a well-oiled machine. The idea that Apple is turning into just another tech company because the HomePod is delayed is laughable, especially given that Apple just released the most advanced smartphone we’ve ever seen not even three weeks ago.
The iPhone accounts for the vast majority of Apple’s revenue, and as a result, the vast majority of Apple’s attention and engineering resources remain laser-focused on all things iPhone. And seeing as how Apple recently had to overcome some manufacturing challenges with the iPhone X, it’s perhaps possible that engineering resources with respect to the HomePod were a bit light over the past few weeks.
The reality is that the HomePod and Apple’s AirPods are cool accessories, not incredibly crucial products that absolutely have to ship on time lest Apple’s balance sheet take a hit. In stark contrast, the Apple products that really move the needle, from the iPhone to the iPad — and even the Apple Watch — aren’t typically subjected to delays.
Apple certainly isn’t impervious to criticism, but the HomePod delay, in the grand scheme of things, is from a damning indication that Apple has lost its luster.