The Usual Apple Product Intro, and the Usual Claims of Production Problems

March 24th, 2015

Do you remember all that chatter before the iPhone 6 was launched last fall? Apple was having problems ramping up production, so they said, and supplies would be severely constrained when the units first went on sale. But you can go farther back over Apple’s history, particularly when a new form factor was about to go on sale. The supply chain rumors routinely claim that manufacturing yields would be low, and you’d have an awful time getting one of these gadgets.

Now it’s perfectly true Apple uses some pretty sophisticated manufacturing schemes to build gear, and those techniques are usually exclusive to the company. So it stands to reason that it may take extra time to boost supplies, but one assumes Apple is savvy to such matters since the CEO is a supply chain whiz.

It’s also true that it took a few months before supplies of the iPhone 6 Plus, as an example, met demand. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t buy one, or that sales suffered seriously. Indeed, Apple reported record sales in the December 2014 quarter, though I grant that sales might have been somewhat better if you didn’t have to wait for the model and configuration you wanted.

That doesn’t mean Apple ran into trouble building them. Production levels are based on estimates, and it’s often better to err on the side of caution, which means dealers and distributors aren’t flooded with unsold product. Apple is quite unlike other tech companies who routinely ship as many units as they can, and use those numbers to boast of high sales.

As you might imagine, there are stories about claiming there are serious problems ramping up production of the Appel Watch. Apple’s use of an AMOLED display is said to be a cause, except that AMOLED displays have already been used by such companies as LG and Samsung. You’d think, therefore, that the fundamentals of building those displays are already resolved, although Apple is admittedly doing different things.

But in setting a shipping date of April 24, and that was announced in early March, you have to expect that Tim Cook knew full well have many units would be available at launch. Remember this date is at the edge of one’s expectations for a ship date of early 2015.

The stories also vary somewhat in speculating about the severity of early production problems. If you believe the most pessimistic stories, Apple will have product to sell at the start, but maybe not so much. If they can’t ramp up production sufficiently, it may take months to fill the initial demand. If true, of course, and nobody outside Apple and the supply chain knows for sure.

But rumors of that sort might serve a sinister purpose, which is to spook potential customers to maybe look elsewhere. So why wait for an Apple Watch when you can buy a Moto 360 or a Pebble right now, no waiting? That might be the intent of such stories, to discourage buyers, and that same reason might explain similar stories that arose when other Apple gear was poised to ship.

On the other hand, constrained supplies, if not too severe, might have the reverse effect. People want to get in on what’s hot in tech gear, so eager buyers might indeed be willing to wait a few days or a few weeks for the gadget they want. They become part of the exclusive club of early adopters who waited out the storm to get their piece of the action.

When shipping delays extend to months, however, it’s understandable that some people would rather not bother. They’d either wait till supplies are adequate, or just choose something else. It would be Apple’s loss.

Now I don’t know how many people have made that decision, to purchase other gear when instant gratification from Apple wasn’t in the cards. Nobody can fault someone who has needs that one company cannot fulfill.

But despite all the gloom and doom, I doubt anyone has a firm fix on how many Apple Watches are going to be sold. Maybe Apple has some early data about prospective demand, but just because someone answers a survey about buying a new product, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will go through with the purchase.

Certainly, Apple is doing its level best to keep interest real high. In addition to advertising spreads in fashion magazines around the world, consider those carefully timed interviews with Apple executives about how marvelous the Apple Watch is. And don’t forget the TV ads that are quite plentiful for gear that won’t ship for another month or so.

Will loads of customers be waiting at Apple Stores around the world on April 24 — at least in countries where Apple Watch will be available — to get one? Good question. If the initial allocation for preorders is sold out, all bets are off. But if you don’t hear much about sales right after the first weekend, maybe Apple Watch won’t do quite as well as the more optimistic expectations. We just have to wait and see.

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