On the back of their latest earnings call, a fair bit of renewed attention has been paid to Apple’s prodigious AirPods. In it, we got confirmation of what owners of the cordless headphones likely already knew, and what analysts were anticipating: AirPods crush customer satisfaction surveys and the sales are, to quote Tim Cook, a runaway success. As such, surely the Cupertino head office must feel in a party mood with regard to their EarPods successor?

Put it this way, something tells me the sound and sight of popping bottles and Eddy Cue flailing his arms to the sound of Pharrell’s Happy will have to wait – because for all their success, almost half a year into their lifecycle AirPods remain a problem child. It only takes one metric and four words to back up that not so outlandish case: ships in six weeks.

Excuse me, why are there no AirPods on the shelves?

In early November of last year, I went off on a bit of a tangent about Apple increasingly putting their impeccable reputation on the line. Back then, they had just come out and announced the AirPods would be subject to further delays, this time for an undetermined period, and the internet would not be the internet if the subsequent pushback hadn’t been immense.

I added a voice to it and even though some interpreted the writing as clickbaity Apple bashing, it wasn’t supposed to be a hit piece by any measure. Neither is this one (full disclosure, I’m a complete sucker for my AirPods), but we can’t brush under the carpet the fact that five months post release, the regrettable backorder situation hasn’t changed one iota.

Apple are no strangers to slow rollouts and for better or worse we have come to accept that. Whenever a new iPhone is released, we immediately get our order in, then figuratively gather under Apple’s big product valve and hope for our order to drip out of it shortly. In keeping with this particularly wonky metaphor, eventually Apple have the means to crank up the valve and the higher pressure leads to the products ordered zipping through the tube a lot quicker. Delivery times shorten accordingly.

AirPods however are somewhat unprecedented in Apple’s supply history, because the product formerly plagued by pre-release hiccups still only sporadically trickles down the pipe. The inventory levels seem identical to those in December 2016, which is nothing short of mind-boggling for a company that has the economies of scale of Apple. And it can only hurt their business at this point.

Fault finding

Considering the severity of the situation, Tim Cook’s run-of-the-mill ‘demand significantly exceeds supply’ explanation does not really cut it for me personally. We know that throughout 2016, AirPods production was facing plenty of issues and setbacks, and in light of the slowest product rollout I can remember, it’s certainly not a stretch to infer that an element of that is impeding Apple to this very day.

So what could it be? Your guess is as good as mine, however chances are that the technology at fault for the earlier delay (unlike other bluetooth headphones, both AirPods earpieces receive separate bluetooth signals) still plays its part. Were they perhaps unable to rectify the issue with the units already produced by late 2016 and literally had to start from scratch just shortly before release? Is the technology around the W1 chip so intricate that AirPods are harder to mass manufacture than other products in the pipeline?

It’s safe to say that this is pure conjecture. That said if there is even a kernel of truth in it, wouldn’t it be a lot smarter for Apple to be transparent about the issues instead of trotting out the ‘high demand’ trope?

It must be infuriating for any prospective customer still holding out for the delivery times to drop, and Apple owning a mistake or showing a degree of humility might alleviate frustrations with those on the fence about making the purchase. It’s also less probable to push customers away from Apple, right into the arms of other competent bluetooth headphone sellers – because to some the current statement might read like Tim off-handedly saying sorry (not sorry) we’re so popular.

Putting to bed a popular Apple myth?

Returning to our opening metaphor, at this point it defies all logic to argue that Apple is still artificially throttling the pump pressure to further the demand. It’s a common (mis)conception we have whenever Apple release a new gadget, but imagining the huge chunk of revenue alone that Apple currently forfeit due to the AirPods shortage (at $159, the profit margins must be salivating) should refute that urban legend once and for all. 

Critics are raving of the product, people clamouring to get their hands on them, but they’re being turned away in droves. The opportunity cost is massive, competition eating away at their profits. None of this can be in Apple’s best interest, not with the AirPods and not with any other product.

The bottom line is that Apple not only dropped the ball here, but they dropped it some time in early 2016 and (more fatally) have failed to pick it back up since. Ironically, the product itself is fantastic, but the botched rollout and surrounding noise has seriously tarnished the AirPods brand and lends credence to my critique in November. So here’s to hoping Apple will learn their lesson from the AirPods charade and work on their message for when the next big launch draws out, because that I can guarantee you will happen.

And hey Apple, please don’t fumble the iPhone 8 release!

Did you manage to secure a pair of AirPods and how long did you have to wait for them?
Let us know in the comments!

  • Sharkey311

    Got mine day one by the skin of my teeth.

  • Avi Alkalay

    As an experienced bluetooth earpiece user, I tested it and want one. It is really fantastic. But I’ll wait for the second generation. My current Samsung bluetooth earpiece is OK for now (incomparable to the AirPods) and very new, so I can wait.

  • Pierre Bugeja

    Quite frankly I find the “negative journalism” as poor and, at best, irritating. This article, which I only read half way through due to being unfair, presumptions and annoying has little fact and a loads of uncalled-for negativity. Yes, I do have AirPods. I love them. They are the best headset devices I have owned (and I have owned several including Steinhausser and Bang & Olufssen). I waited about two months to get them and I was worth the wait. I have never used earphones so often. And no earphone experience has been remotely as pleasant. It is always better to have a slow, robust roll-out than a fast shameful failure like Samsung had. Apple surely have a reason for everything they do, they don’t need to share it and we don’t need to speculate about it.

    • Kolja

      I think you completely miss the point of the article. I’m also surprised, that Apple nearly half a year after the release still struggle with the delivery or willingly hold them back. I’ve visited the Apple Store multiple time to find someone angrily leaving the store like “Still not in stock, f* it, I’ll buy something else”. So I think it must be allowed to think about the delays and why they still happen…
      Also I don’t share your opinion completely. While the AirPods are undoubtfully a crazy piece of hardware, they are far from perfect. The volume thing imho was not really thought through. Also as reliable the pairing process worked at first, I struggle since then to get the battery status up on my iPhone. Works 1 out of 10 tries… Also this “Works on every device paired with your icloud id” is more a bad joke…

      • Pierre Bugeja

        Hardly. I feel an article should be factual and have a fresh, positive twist on it. I ordered mine on-line on 17-Jan with promised delivery on 8-Mar and actual delivery on 3-Mar. That makes it 6 weeks and 3 days, delivered to my doorstep. My point is that journalists seem to only have negative things to say about apple. About 6 months ago a CNBC pundit spoke on why he, “wouldn’t buy Apple stock, not now, not ever”. Genius! It was $103 when he spoke. it is $152.454 as I write. Sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But a speculative opinion is unfair and, quite frankly, boring. Journalism seems to thrive mostly on bad news.

      • Kolja

        Ok, we might have different feelings about the article…
        Even I totally agree with you, that the general tenor is a little negative, it also brings up an interesting question. And I think this question is important indeed. As far as I remember Apple never struggled as much with deliveries as with the AirPods. I actually am interested why this it the case. It might still be production issues, it might be politics…
        Is there a new updated product, that apple wants to bring up in the near future, that might outdate the AirPods massively? All speculations, but interesting enough to write your thoughts about it.
        So basically I receive this article way more neutral as you seam to do.
        And lets be honest here, there are far worse articles then this one here (only remember blahblah-gate and so on) 😉

      • Pierre Bugeja

        The one thing I know for sure about Apple is that they have very good control of information. Even the guys working at the stores won’t have the information until the last minute. One could certainly write a lot about the AirPods but we will only know the truth if and when Apple would want us to know.

      • Gersham Shams

        You guys are a treat. Apple obviously have production issues; but now that we are so close to the new iPhone releases they are choosing not to roll it out in droves. Apple has big plans for the AirPods – like releasing with the 2017 iPhones; so they are currently rolling them out to the customers in a controlled fashion as a sort of trial to see how it performs to reduce high level of returns in the event that there are serious issues and at such a low level customer feedback can be handled more efficiently in the event that enhancement is required. That’s my speculation but Apple hardly ever surprise me nowadays

      • George

        You’re a joke.

      • Rowan09

        Apple doom and gloom stories is just getting old. With the AirPods though I get what the author is saying in regards to being still unavailable and I also get your point in why not provide any facts behind why it’s not available. It was just an opinion with an obvious fan of the product, but angry about the release of it.

    • Steffen Reich

      First of all good on you for keeping the discussion civil. You see, I’m with you that AirPods are fantastic, I would hands down deem them Apple’s most amazing product of 2016 – so this was not supposed to be negative journalism at all. If I haven’t made it clear enough between the lines that’s on me, though I do feel that some others here have construed the article the way it was intended by me. We’re on the same page about the product, but dissent on the rollout, which is fine (it’s an opinion piece rather than journalism anyways in my book). As Kolja recounts below, if people get fed up with waiting (and I do believe that almost half a year later, it’s justified when it comes to Apple’s capabilities) that certainly longer benefits Apple. You don’t have to have studied PR to realize that if your customers get mildly frustrated, damage control is of the highest order. The only case I’m making that Tim nonchalantly shrugging it off is perhaps not the best way to go about it. We’ve come to accept it with iPhones et cetera, but the AirPods rollout is choking pretty bad by all measures.

      • Pierre Bugeja

        Civilised discussions with opposing opinions is what constitutes intelligent debates. My point is that I, living in little Luxembourg, wanted a pair, and got them. The waiting time was long, but odds are I will never know the reason why and I knew the lead time at the time of purchase. “Production issues” is a very broad statement and can range from a choice that Apple decided to stay with their prototype line (because the initial delay in realising the AirPads influenced the business case for the full-scale production line on this product, at this time), to having quality issues with the product itself.

  • Rowan09

    When is Gen 2 suppose to be released? I would like them to focus on making it at least sweat proof.

    • Merman123

      Don’t let that hold you back. They are beyond sweat proof. Been using them since December and no signs of damage.

      • Rowan09

        Cool thanks.

    • Cerberus The Wise

      Can attest from lots of working out; Very sweat proof and not fragile as they may appear.

      • Rowan09

        Great they stay in your ear as well right?

      • Cerberus The Wise

        Yes they do. When I first tried them on, I thought it didn’t feel all that secure at first, but after repeatedly shaking my head as violently as possible, they didn’t even come loose. They definitely stay in with any reasonable use or intense exercise. The fit may be different from person to person though. A good test is to try apple’s regular EarPods as they’re nearly identical. If EarPods fit good for you, so will AirPods.

      • Rowan09

        Ok cool. The EarPods fit great for me I was just tired of a wire connected to my phone (especially when running), so I went with Powerbeats 2 about 3 years ago. I’ll have to check these out.

  • Jose Gonzalez

    I placed my order for AirPods last week online at AT&T on May 1st and received them on May 3rd. My wife loves them! Perfect mothers day gift. Now its my turn! 🙂

  • Agneev

    First everybody opposed the product, now people can’t seem to live without it…

    • Merman123

      That’s pretty much 80 % of Apple products.

      • Agneev

        Yeah. Definitely.

    • Alex Wilson

      I’m living just fine with out it 😉

  • Adan

    I ordered mine 4 weeks ago, I get a notification that they are ready for store pick up yesterday and today, I popped into an electronics shop and they had two on the shelf. So I cancelled the order and now I have them!

  • Cerberus The Wise

    I ordered a pair from Apple and was about 4 weeks waiting in. The AT&T online store had them in stock so I snagged them and cancelled my order from Apple. The wait from Apple was very off putting.

    • Steffen Reich

      good find!

    • Oshtur

      Yes my order with AT&T on May 8th and received them the 9th (yesterday). Of course the overnight shipping added 10% to the price but worth it.

  • tohff7

    well, they are increasing production for sure. at least double by July/August

  • M_Hawke

    Don’t see why this article is deemed by some below to be “negative.” I didn’t get that at all. OK, if reporting a misstep by a corporation is “negative,” then so be it. This is a misstep, no doubt about it in spite of the four or five below who say they got their order in a day or three. It seems to me that Apple is showing that it is run by humans, after all, with several missteps in hardware and software under Tim Cook. Certainly, Apple remains to be a quality company, one that many envies. But hey–when they have a misstep, call it for what it is. No need to defend them by accusing the reporter of being another one of those nay-saying, negative hacks online.

    • Fredrik Moen

      I don’t think some negative criticism is out of order at this point! Fully agree, Apple need to come up with a better answer to the significant delays. Also, if I was a Apple reseller, I would be pissed because the most reliable avenue for customers to get a pair seems to be to order online directly from Apple Store. Is this possibly part of a business strategy…?

  • Nathan Peterson

    Check your local college bookstore. Mine had 8 in stock.

  • Furrnace

    It took 6 weeks for me to get my pair of AirPods. That was way too long of a wait. At the risk of sounding too much like an Apple fanboy (which I know I am), in all truthfulness, it was well worth the wait. These babies are amazing. I use them every day at work and they work like a charm. I take calls on them, and with my Apple Watch, these are even better. I can kick off phone calls or play the music right from my watch, never even having to take out my phone from my pocket. People understand me just as well from the AirPods, which surprises me since the distance from the receivers and my mouth is about 2 inches. I love that these connect immediately and I can get 5 charges on the Pods before the charge case runs out. I’ve also used them with my Lenovo laptop and they pair perfectly with that too. Pairing them with any Apple device is so easy, my 4 year old could do it. And that skit that Conan or whoever did where they always fall out of your ears couldn’t be further from the truth. Funny skit, but totally false. I could be hanging upside down and/or violently bouncing my head around and these bad boys don’t fall out. My only complaints are that we can only get them in white and there are no buttons on there. I’d like a button to configure, say, Next Track, Pause/Play, slide up/down for volume up/down. But I can’t complain so much because it has the double tap feature that I can configure which I use for Pause/Play. The audio sounds great on these too, similar to the EarPods which I’ve always loved the comfort and sound quality of. I’m not a total audiophile, so I prefer these being more simple and ‘minimalist’ instead of looking like an astronaut wearing those giant Beats or similar brand headphones. Yes, annoying how Apple is dealing with the PR and taking so long to get these out. Not sure what’s going on there, but oh man, these things are SO COOL!

  • Tom59

    I waited for the delivery availability to drop, but it didn’t, so I went ahead and ordered. They arrived in five weeks, not six, so that was a bit of a bonus! However, I can also say that they arrived a FULL six months AFTER my iPhone 7+, which is designed without an audio jack, because the AirPods are designed to complement the phone. Apple do really need to get a grip!

  • Oshtur

    Oh Apple Stores are getting them in sporadically in limited quantities. Just add a pair to your bag on the Apple Store app and check it every morning, if an Apple Store has gotten any it will tell you which store has them and you can snag them for in-store pickup (Apple Store employee clued me into this). I just set a reminder to remind me to check each am.

    But got mine through the AT&T online store.