About Missing Shipping Deadlines

November 22nd, 2017

Does it matter if a company is late to ship a product? I suppose if you need it right away, now, yesterday as if you’re life depended on it, maybe it would be a major issue. If you wanted to give it as a gift for the holidays, someone’s birthday or someone’s anniversary, and the deadline was missed, it would be an upsetting situation. After all, just sending a sales slip as proof that a present was on the way wouldn’t convey a very nice impression.

When it comes to technology, being late is not unusual. An auto maker introduces a new model, and it may take a while for production to catch up with demand, especially for a hot seller. I remember waiting for months for certain cars years back; I’ve always been a little obsessive about colors and options. More recently, in addition to setting my sights on cheaper models, I try to buy what’s on the showroom floor, or something that can be exchanged with another dealer. That way, virtually instant gratification, well except for that lengthy and annoying process of making the deal and waiting for the finance manager to get things in order.

When it comes to software, the usual process is to get a point-zero version out on or about the promised release date, then rush out maintenance updates to address the most serious problems. Tech gear may have features that aren’t ready for release, or don’t do all that they can do until updated.

Take the iPhone 7 Plus and Portrait mode. While the iPhones for 2016 shipped on time, this feature depended on an iOS update that came some weeks later. But it’s not just Apple. Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant, developed by some of the people who brought you Siri for the iPhone, wasn’t available on U.S. models of the Galaxy S8 for weeks.

This is something perfectly normal, something you should expect given the complexities of design, testing and production ramp ups for sophisticated gear.

In 2013, the Mac Pro was supposed to ship by the end of the year. It did, barely, with only a small number leaving the factory. Most didn’t show up until early in 2014. Forget, for the moment, the problems with this unique design. At first, there appeared to be plenty of demand for it, and, no doubt, early production issues that had to be tackled.

Over the years, iPhones are routinely backordered during the early weeks of availability. Apple misjudged the product mix between the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, and it took a while to get supplies in sync. This year, it appears more people prefer the iPhone 8 Plus over its smaller companion, but it’s not hard to find one at a local dealer, or direct from Apple. The iPhone X didn’t ship until early this month, but that’s what Apple promised, although supplies remain seriously constrained. But delays have been reduced from five to six weeks down to two to three weeks.

AirPods were backordered through much of its first year of availability, although I can easily find one now at the two nearest Apple Stores if I was interested.

At the June WWDC, Apple introduced two products with the promise of future delivery. One, the iMac Pro, was expected to ship in December with no word so far on whether that schedule will be met. At a starting price of $4,999, it’s hardly the sort of gadget one might offer as a gift except for the well-heeled. That said, if it doesn’t ship on schedule, it probably won’t be a catastrophe except, perhaps, for content creators and other power users who gave up on the Mac Pro but need something powerful with a state-of-the-art design.

But if you hoped to give a HomePod for the holidays, choose a different holiday. Apple has announced that it won’t meet the December shipping date, but that it’ll arrive in early 2018. But expecting it to arrive before December 25th would have been a crap shoot anyway. Even if it shipped on time, it would probably be backordered for a while.

Nothing I’ve just written should come as any surprise to you. It is par for the course, but you know how it is with Apple. If something goes wrong, be it a product defect, or failing to meet a shipping deadline, it is a major catastrophe that must reflect on Tim Cook’s supply chain competence.

I suppose he is supposed to not only be a genius in setting up production lines, but he must be capable of precognition too, capable of knowing precisely what’s going to happen in the future. Indeed, he should know what people will like six months or a year hence and thus command his troops to build the gear that will be a top seller.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the 2013 Mac Pro misfire, nor misjudging demand for some tech gear. What it really indicates is that Apple gear is designed not by psychics or extraterrestrials, but by imperfect human beings. So there will be defects, there will be misfires, and some products and services may not be ready on schedule.

In other words, Apple is little different from other companies. At the end of the day, I’d prefer something ship a little later to allow more time to eliminate or minimize defects. But with deadlines looming, and sales of profits depending on timely or reasonably timely delivery, there will be compromises. Apple is no more guilty of pushing a product to market early than any other manufacturer.

Some people might want to pretend it’s catastrophic for Apple, but that’s beyond absurd.

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2 Responses to “About Missing Shipping Deadlines”

  1. ViewRoyal says:

    Exactly! Some people who have been denigrating Apple for its decision to delay the release of the HomePod (from Apple’s OWN arbitrary target of “December”) seem to have amnesia regarding not only Apple’s many other instances of delaying its own products, but ALSO that all other tech companies have previously delayed their own products.

    The delay of Apple’s HomePod may have nothing to do with Apple’s ability to deliver new products on time. In fact, it is probable that the announced delay may have nothing at all to do with Apple.

    The phenomenal demand for some of Apple’s recently released products, including the Apple Watch 3, iPhone X, and iPhone 8 Plus, has taken Apple (and everyone else) by surprise. Apple’s suppliers have been put into “overdrive” trying to churn out these products, as well as Apple’s other products like iPads and MacBooks that have been increasing in popularity (as evidenced by the recent quarterly report). And with the iMac Pro, another major new product, to be released in December adding to suppliers’ loads, it is highly probable that those assemblers have reached a limit in production capacity, even with the hiring of additional seasonal workers.

    The most likely reason why Apple has had to delay the launch of the HomePod is that Apple had to prioritize its suppliers’ production load. The HomePod (rather than the iMac Pro) was the most likely candidate to delay in order to not unnecessarily slow down production and delivery of Apple’s other important products.

    Apple’s suppliers have a finite capacity for assembling and delivering Apple products, and no contingency plan can overcome those limitations. If for example, we take just one Apple product, the iPhone X, and realize that the silicon fabricators, parts manufacturers, shipping and delivery, and assemblers are currently producing millions of units of that one product every week, it is easy to imagine just how challenging it is for Apple to meet demand for all of its products simultaneously.

    I think that it is highly probable that Apple has already completed all of the R&D requirements for the HomePod hardware and software. The HomePod is likely ready for production right now, but Apple had to make a strategic decision to delay that production in order to better fulfill the timely deliveries of Apple’s other products.

    Apple is in the enviable position of having to delay a new product to allow the expeditious delivery of Apple’s more crucial, and more sought-after products.

  2. dfs says:

    Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that the HomePods are already to ship, parked in a Shanghai warehouse, and that the real problem is Siri? There’s a general consensus that at least a couple of rival voice-command systems have passed it by, leaving it behind in their dust, and the advent of the HomePod is going to highlight Siri’s weaknesses more than ever. So my hunch is that Apple has chosen to delay release of the HomePod until it can announce, with suitable fanfare, the availability of Siri 2.0.

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