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.
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!