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  • Apple Is Releasing Products Too Early!

    August 28th, 2008

    Consider what Steve Jobs said in his widely-quoted employee memo about the failed rollout of MobileMe, that Apple could have waited somewhat longer to make sure things were working properly before transitioning from .Mac.

    He clearly had a point, but he really isn’t going far enough. You see, it has been clear to me for the last several years that marketing considerations and not product readiness are playing too much of a role in Apple’s recent release dates.

    Certainly that was probably also true with the iPhone 3G and version 2.0 software. You can see that in the 3G-related issues, which were supposedly addressed, at least in part, in the 2.0.2 update. Then again, if what Roughly Drafted Magazine’s Daniel Eran Dilger suggests in a recent article, it may require all or most iPhone 3G users upgrading the firmware before the problems settle down. That is unless there’s another update forthcoming to expand upon the list of bug fixes.

    But you have to wonder here whether Apple could have perhaps spent more time field testing their new phone before it was released. Wouldn’t that have revealed some of these connection issues? Perhaps, or perhaps not. It may be the combination of having lots of iPhones in the same area that causes network congestion and other problems that contribute to disconnects and slow Internet performance.

    As to the other key issue, involving unstable applications, it’s true that developers only had a few months to build brand new software for a brand new programming platform. Yes, it’s highly related to Apple’s desktop version of OS X, but there are enough differences to cause trouble. In time, one expects it’ll get better.

    So when might Apple have released these products and services? That’s a really good question, and I wouldn’t presume to know. It may be one of those things, and releasing the iPhone and the new firmware on August 11th would have made little, if any, difference. The problems might not have revealed themselves until millions of users bought them and put them into service.

    As far as MobileMe is concerned, no question about it. If the service debuted after Labor Day, to give it more time to bake in the development ovens, would it have made any significant difference? Would you care if you didn’t get Push notification support for the service formerly known as .Mac right away? It’s not as if it’s a critical issue, since real business users would probably be more interested in the enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange.

    Or at least that’s the theory.

    It is not just Apple’s newest gear that might have been released too early. Consider Leopard. It was delayed several months supposedly to give developers more time to finish the iPhone before they returned to work on Tiger’s successor. Assuming that was true, Apple was in a bind, as late October of 2007 was perhaps the latest release date that would allow for the new operating system to be in the hands of customers for the holiday season. Certainly stellar sales resulted, but a 10.5.1 update was required real fast to address, among other things, an obscure Finder bug that could have corrupted or destroyed data when you copied it over a network. Why didn’t they discover that during the test process?

    Why indeed!

    Then there were the very first Intel-based Macs. Here Apple’s marketing people were also situated between a rock and a hard place, as the anticipation of the new generation of Macs was widely expected to hurt sales of PowerPC models. Now maybe it didn’t have all that much effect in retrospect, but that was because the highest-selling Macs were updated early in 2006.

    For the most part, the new Intel hardware worked well enough. But there were problems with expanding batteries, excessive heat, and, in the first run of the new MacBooks, discoloration of the cases. All this stuff smacks of rushed release schedules and insufficient product testing.

    Yes, the Intel chips themselves were of a new generation, but surely Apple had sufficient time to anticipate cooling issues and the plastic fabrication defects should not have been difficult to address before the production lines were started. It’s not as if the new MacBooks were so drastically different from the models they replaced.

    To be fair to Apple, I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of their product development process, nor the full extent of the pressures invoked by marketing people to ship on time regardless. Obviously there are compromises to be made. No product is ever perfect, and a mass-market company has to decide when things are good enough to ship, and where issues can be appropriately resolved later with ongoing production changes or software updates.

    In the end, perhaps Apple’s early release issues were unavoidable. The fact that their sales are much higher these days means that more and more users will have the new products early, and any lingering problems will manifest themselves that much quicker.

    But if Apple has learned anything from the MobileMe debacle, they will, one hopes, consider the potential hazards a little more carefully when they set shipping dates.

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