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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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    8 Responses to “Apple Is Releasing Products Too Early!”

    1. Richard says:

      Merely by asking the question, you have answered it.

      “To be fair to Apple, I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of their product development process….”

      It is unnecessary to know the process to know that it is inadequate or defective. The result speaks for itself. If one looks beyond the recent product release problems, it becomes clear that the problem is endemic, though not exclusively, to Apple. How many times have customers been “burned” by purchasing “Rev A” Apple products? Too, too many.

      Although some “Rev A” problems are plainly ill-conceived messes, the simple fact of the matter is that there has been totally inadequate product testing, especially in real world, real end user environments. There also is an obvious lack of user demand input into features/capabilities and so on in the design of products, be they hardware or software.

      Mr. Jobs’ paranoid fear of product information disclosure preventing his “look what I brought you” presentations from being fresh is, no doubt, responsible, at least in part, for these sorts of problems. That is more about ego than marketing considerations.

      Mr. Ive may collect awards and knighthoods, but his “industrial designs” frequently, if not normally, result in poorly engineered products that are immature in terms of their technical function.

      Apple have traditionally utilized artificial dates for product releases…e.g. the seemingly mandatory release at MacWorld. Although certain items make sense to be previewed, if not necessarily released, at a certain event such as the WWDC where it is intended that the participants have access to software for development (and view new hardware for purpose of integration), a product should be shipped when it is ready with certain market driven dates being given emphasis. Specifically, the “back to school” cycle and the holiday cycle are important to manufacturers of a great many products. Apple have missed the “back to school” cycle for most of their recent history. I sometimes wonder if they are even aware of the holiday cycle.

      It seems that these problems are increasing as Apple has been growing which could be an even greater problem as it could eventually limit the growth the company seeks.

      Apple management, and the board of directors, plainly need to refocus their efforts. It may even require a reorganization to put people in positions where they can actually accomplish a timely release of a product that is ready for release.

    2. AdamC says:

      Right to call a spade a spade… Apple will never be great unless there are more discerning users out there to hold them to account. Good job.

    3. Louis Wheeler says:

      Anyone who expects perfection in a version 1.0 product or software is a fool. There are always teething pains in new products. Some of the expectations of Apple products are absurd.

      People were demanding 3G services, but they were dismayed to find out that AT&T, or any other ISP, charges half again more for 3G services than EDGE. AT&T had to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars to put 3G services into place. It was self evident, to anone with sense– pundits excepted, that the service would be spotty. For the sake of swift completion and economy, AT&T would naturally add the service to its existing EDGE towers. But HSDPA doesn’t carry as far as EDGE. More towers need to be built to space them closer together. Sometimes this would work and not others.

      Sometimes, the proof of the pudding is that the consumer has to taste it. Apple can guess and guess wrong. This leads to disapointment. But, that is the price you pay for being on the “Leading Edge.” Eventually, Apple will produce a solution which will satisfy the consumers.

      The question is, “When is good enough, good enough?” If you demand that Apple wait until the hardware and software is perfected, then Apple never delivers. As Steve Jobs said, ” Artists deliver.”

      Either way, you pundits get to complain about it.

    4. Doug Petrosky says:

      Richard I disagree.

      Although it’s true that some rev A products have more issues than I’d like, it hasn’t hurt the popularity of said products. No amount of testing will shake out all the bugs so you set dates, evaluate progress and deliver if possible. Apple has actually been amazingly good at this for a technology company. They hit 4 OS releases and missed the last one by a few months. They made a product transition 6-12 months ahead of schedule and produced a near perfect rev A iphone right on time. When issues arise, they are quick to fix them and this seems to keep the vast majority of their users very happy.

      I don’t know what “immature….technical function” you are referring to because Apple has been a huge technical innovator over the past few years. Maybe you are still stuck in the kitchen sink design mentality that more is always better. Thinking like that brought us such great things as bloat ware and incomprehensible menu trees that go 6-8 layers deep.

      Apple’s management has grown a company that was stuck in obscurity or even worse and turned it around to the point that it is now a serious contender not only in Computers, OS and Software, but also in consumer electronics and media distribution and your solution is “refocus their efforts” or reorganize?

      Apple just delivered the most successful phone product launch of all times and at the same time launched what is essentially a new mobile platform and enhanced it’s online services all on the same day. And the online services had problems that seriously affected less than 1% of it’s installed base for less than 2 weeks. And this is endemic!

      You obviously have issues with some of Apple’s products but as you said the results speak for themselves. In the past 6 years Apple as delivered 5 major OS’s updates, completed a processor switch over, become the number 1 producer of digital media players, the number 1 distributer of digital media, created the most successful phone release of all time. Created a new mobile platform and increased it’s computer marketshare by something approaching 1000%…..Oh ya and had their stock is up what by a factor of 25 with like $19 Billion in the bank.

      Ya, this company is in trouble! Thank god you are here to guide them!

      Bottom line, MobileMe was a hiccup that will be forgotten in a couple months and the iPhone launch was an amazing success.

    5. Richard says:

      Doug,

      Although I am still using Apple products, which, frankly, sometimes surprises me, the fact is that Apple routinely releases stuff that is not right. I have been burned far too often with bastardized hardware that simply was no good for which I, and others, paid premium prices. Dot zero software is one thing. Screwed up hardware is quite another as it is not subject to a dot something or other fix. Some of the problems with Apple is the lack of plain common sense and a view of the market.

      I won’t get into a tit for tat with you about Apple’s misdeeds, but they are far too numerous, whether you recognize them or not.

      I am not here to “set them straight”. I am simply free to comment on items I may see fit to make observations about, as are you.

      As far as MobileMe goes, I very much agree that, for once at least, Mr. Jobs handled it in the manner most likely to put it behind the company. Admit fault, apologize, make some sort of peace offering and try to do better. Perhaps that realization will make its way into other areas as well. We should be so fortunate.

    6. Charlie says:

      Apple has been slipping for some time now……..pushing stuff out the door….! 10.5 has been the worst release of the last 3 releases…….the shut down bug,drove me nuts & after talking with a genius at the Apple store who just denied the existence of it made the issue worst. The list go on & on……..

      I believe that a major part of the Apple push problem is Wall Street……I understand that Apple has commitments to it’s stockholders …….but, when you hear Apple didn’t meet expectations of the “street” OK how about the expectations of the USER’S……..! The “street” will loose out if we we stop supporting Apple….! DUH

      I am happy that Apple has increased it’s market share, however not at the expense of QUALITY

      Apple quality is job one…! PERIOD..! the rest will follow

    7. Charlie, I understand your concerns, though I do not agree with you about 10.5. They said the same about 10.4 and 10.3. Remember, for example, the bug that could cause a FireWire drive to lose its data not so many years back?

      Stuff happens. However, with so many new product initiatives, Apple needs to tighten things up as it moves forward.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. There’s no doubt that iPads are in a transitional period at the moment, but Apple seems to be pushing the Pros as the way ahead, so expect some interesting products in March.

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