After the tragic earthquake and tsunami occurred in Japan, some tech analysts were suggesting that Apple might be in deep trouble building their trend-setting gadgets. Some of the parts, such as batteries, were all or partly sourced in Japan. The supply chain was disrupted, thus Apple couldn’t possibly meet customer demand. This resulted in a temporary drop in Apple’s stock price, predictably of course.
At the same time, Apple is selling every single iPad 2 they can build. It’s not uncommon for people to line up in front of an Apple Store at the crack of dawn, waiting for the day’s shipments, and hoping to be among to first to take home a new iPad. That same scene has been repeated in pretty much all the countries in which the iPad 2 is available. If you can’t wait, prepare to pay a few hundred dollars extra via the gray market, or from someone on eBay who bought a bunch of them for the sole purpose of taking your money because you aren’t patient enough to wait for production to catch up.
Now understand that Apple’s supply chain commander, COO Tim Cook, is a brilliant production person. I’m quite sure he understands that natural disasters, weather, strikes, and other factory disruptions might impact Apple’s ability to get the components they need. So he makes arrangements for alternate suppliers, where possible.
So you’ve seen that the iPad 2 online backorders were once as long as four to five weeks, but have, as of this week, decreased from two to three weeks. No, not because people are no longer buying them in huge quantities. Remember that this device only went on sale outside the U.S. towards the end of March. Clearly demand is higher, but more product is being assembled and shipped.
This doesn’t mean that can’t or won’t be a slowdown because of the production uncertainties in Asia. But there’s no sign yet that Apple has been hurt any. However, I’ve little doubt that Apple’s financial team will be asked just that question during the quarterly conference call on April 20th, after the financials for the last quarter are announced. Then you’ll know what’s really going on.
Now I suppose you could argue that Apple’s competitors stand to gain. If you can’t get an iPad 2, what about the Motorola Xoom? Well, the May 2011 issue of Consumer Reports, never known for accuracy or consistency in reviewing computing devices, admits they didn’t actually have an iPad 2 on hand when the article was written. But they correctly point out that other companies have had serious difficulty coming close to Apple’s aggressive price points. But the most curious statement of all appears in a blurb, “Motorola Zoom may be iPad’s biggest rival.”
Or maybe not. There’s no evidence at all that, despite all the heavy-duty sci-fi flavored ads, large quantities of Xooms are being sold. Already there are reports that the product is being dead-ended, and that a new model will appear this summer. So much for the manufacturer’s confidence in the Xoom’s potential, not to mention reports that production has been cut back severely.
Unfortunately, Consumer Reports is so wedded to hardware specs, that they fail to consider issues of usability, OS stability and, most important, the availability of apps. The iPad is nothing without apps, and with 65,000 choices, nobody seems able to catch up. Even the highly-touted Android Market hasn’t exhibited much in the way of software sales, compared to the number of smartphone apps in that inventory. Most are free, but hardly worth the download. And there are only a few dozen earmarked for tablets. CR mentions that new apps will likely require Android 3.0 or later, which immediately sets tablets with old OS versions, which didn’t actually support tablets, at a severe disadvantage. Why buy those products if you won’t be able to get new apps for them?
Also consider just one more thing: Why would anyone want to buy even a Xoom when you consider the limitations in the number of apps? As I said, that’s the biggest charm of Apple’s mobile gear. Even though Android OS smartphones are selling in higher quantities than iPhones, apps sales are still in the toilet. Certainly lots of customers may not care. Perhaps the standard email client, Web client and the various and sundry standard add-ons are sufficient. I understand some users might even prefer the alleged “open” marketplace, free of restrictions imposed by Google.
But they may not appreciate the recent outbreak of malware-ridden apps. Google received accolades from an uncritical news media when the infected apps were pulled, not realizing that, with even casual reviewing, most of those apps would never have made it into the store.
Even Google is beginning to have second thoughts about Android’s purported openness. The source code for version 3.0, code-named Honeycomb, is being withheld for now. It’s also clear that Google wants to impose some restrictions on their preferred partners so they don’t tamper so drastically with the user interface and bundled software.
So Apple may be the enemy to Android users for now — assuming the products weren’t purchased because iPhones and iPads weren’t available on the day of purchase — but it’s also clear Google can learn a thing or two about branding, and the need to exert a little control to enforce that concept.
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