Some Still Don’t Understand Why Apple Rarely Preannounces New Products

May 4th, 2017

Do you remember October 23, 2001? As the nation was still grieving over the 9/11 terrorist attack, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was busy changing the world in his own way. That’s when the original $399 iPod was demonstrated at a media event. It arrived with the promise of 1,000 songs in your pocket.

The iPod went on sale the following week for $399. The release schedule was in keeping with many Apple products, where shipments start within a week or two. As you know, though, some Apple gadgets may not ship for weeks or months after the initial demonstration.

So on January 9, 2007, during a Macworld Expo keynote, Steve Jobs took the wraps off the iPhone. It was touted as a three-in-one gadget, consisting of “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, searching and maps…”

But it wasn’t released for sale until June 29, 2007. One of the reasons for the early announcement was said to be the need for FCC certification, which would result in premature revelation of the iPhone’s existence.

Now it’s rare for Apple to introduce a new gadget six months before you can buy it. Apple’s usual posture about far-future gear is that they do not comment on unreleased products.

So with the original iPhone, the 2013 Mac Pro and other gear, Apple did announce the new products months ahead of release to spark demand and, no doubt, to freak the competition.

In the case of the first iPod and the first iPhone, it didn’t replace anything. Well, the iPhone certainly replaced the iPod for most people; it was a next generation product that integrated a number of key functions in a single gadget. The 2013 Mac Pro arrived after the product hadn’t received a serious update in a while.

But if there is an existing, thriving product, pre-announcing the next version is apt to gut sales big time. Why buy the old model when something new is a few months away? This would explain why sales of any Apple product will stall ahead of the expected announcement of its replacement.

Lately, though, the chatter about new products has released such intensity, it may well be that existing customers are taking it seriously enough to postpone their buying plans far earlier than usual. At least that’s one reason why Tim Cook claims there was a “pause” in iPhone sales for the March quarter. So sales were slightly below 2016 levels, which were, in turn, below 2015 levels. But there was also the claim that, due to a higher level of inventory management, there was more sell-through this year, and thus sales that seemed lower were actually higher.

All right, it might be a numbers game, but high customer expectations may indeed be a genuine problem. For months, you’ve been reading about the prospects of a rumored iPhone 8, sometimes known as the 10th anniversary iPhone. It actually started before the iPhone 7 arrived. So the iPhone 7 was supposed to be a minor refresh, basically an interim model that was meant to help Apple bide time until the major revision arrived.

Compared to previous upgrades, the iPhone 7 may have closely resembled its predecessor, but it was a fairly big refresh overall. If you look at the changes in previous iPhones — minus any changes to the case design or the size of the display — there were a number of useful enhancements.

Regardless, it goes to show how sales of existing Apple gadgets can be hurt by expectations of a new model, real or otherwise. If there’s an exception, it’s the Mac Pro, where Apple is only revealing that an all-new version, modular, easy-to-upgrade, is being worked on, but there is no firm release date. All we know is that it won’t come until next year.

That announcement was forced on Apple by the threat that professional users might soon abandon the Mac. Even though sales of the current Mac Pro, which were probably no great shakes anyway, would be impacted, Apple realized it had to make this move. At the same time, there’s a fire sale of the current model; the existing model is selling for up to thousands of dollars less. Maybe some Mac users will make do, and Apple can unload any leftover inventory. Or build some more product if demand warrants it.

But you can see why you won’t read any official news about the next iPhone until Apple is almost ready to ship. However, there is a certain alleged industry analyst who suggests Apple might nonetheless stage a demonstration at the WWDC in June.

I won’t mention the name, since I don’t feel it’s necessary to embarrass people who display such evidence of incompetence.

So if Apple doesn’t plan to release a new iPhone until fall, why would it destroy the current market in such a foolish way? Where’s the benefit in that?

This doesn’t mean you won’t see any new hardware at the WWDC. I suppose there might be a couple of Mac refreshes, particularly news about forthcoming professional configurations for the iMac, since that would be an appropriate audience; at least, if the release is only weeks away.

What’s more, if Apple has made substantial progress designing the next Mac Pro, it may be demonstrated there too. Remember that the 2013 trash can revision was first unveiled at a WWDC, but it didn’t actually ship until nearly six months later, and then only in very limited quantities.

So if Apple plans on shipping a 2018 Mac Pro in the first quarter of that year, showing it off in the next few weeks would be a terrific idea. It would surely help reassure professional users, some of whom might be skeptical about Apple’s promises. That move would make sense. Displaying a new iPhone months before it ships would be a sign of arrant stupidity, and Apple’s management is definitely not stupid.

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2 Responses to “Some Still Don’t Understand Why Apple Rarely Preannounces New Products”

  1. dfs says:

    Monarchies always reflect the personalities of the current monarch. Steve Jobs had a natural proclivity for secrecy, and for better or worse this became part of Apple’s corporate DNA. But over time Apple learned the lesson that it is very difficult to prevent leaks and rumor-mongering when you rely on supplier and subcontractors located halfway around the world. That’s the inevitable price Apple has to pay for cost-cutting outsourcing. So, like it or not, Apple is realliy limited to two choices: to control the flow of information, getting out in front with its own advance announcements, or to have more or less the same information, sometimes in wildly distorted form, get into circulation thanks to leakage. Maybe if Apple were to invest some of its quarter-trillion cash reserve in manufacturing all its own parts and setting up its own assembly lines here in the USA it could maintain real secrecy. Given its present way of doing business, secrecy is not an option. What Apple can do, however, is make sure that the information that circulates about forthcoming products is accurate.

  2. ImmovableObject says:

    For better or worse, there is a history of other companies exploiting Apple for “inspiration”, often aping the look, feel, and features of Apple’s products to a shameful degree in an attempt to confuse the market and leverage off their success. It’s hard to blame Apple for attempting to use secrecy to delay the inevitable deluge of clones.

    Also consider the Osborne Effect, a textbook example of product pre-announcement that actually doomed a company by killing sales of their current product line.

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