According to today’s Wall Street Journal, Apple has seen the time between announcing a new product and shipping it rise to 23 days during the past six years. During the six years before that, the average was only 11 days. This is not a good sign for the tech titan. Apple used to keep lead times short to prevent rival tech firms from responding to a new product from Cupertino. These delays can also upset customers and cost the company money.
One example of a product delay that hurt Apple in its pocketbook is the ongoing one with the HomePod smart speaker. Devised by Amazon, this product combines a speaker and a virtual assistant. Amazon launched the device in 2015 and this year many smart speakers were purchased for Christmas and Hanukah. Apple originally was hoping to join in with a December launch of its premium HomePod smart speaker, priced at $349. But the device was not ready in time, and is now expected to be released early this year. As a result, Amazon and Google both benefited from Apple’s absence in the marketplace over the holiday shopping season.
Other Apple products that had delayed launches include the wireless Bluetooth powered AirPods, launched in 2016. The year before, the Apple Watch was late to launch. Other delays took place with a pair of iPad Pro accessories, the Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil.
One reason for the widening in product launch delays at Apple could have to do with the different technique favored by the late Steve Jobs compared to the one employed by his hand picked successor to replace him as CEO of the company. Tim Cook has a penchant for announcing a new product as soon as he is able to. Jobs, on the other hand, preferred to wait until a new device was almost ready to ship before unveiling it.
Cook has said that he had wanted to release all three 2017 iPhone models at the same time. Because the iPhone X wasn’t ready to launch in September, only the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Pluswere available to purchase at the time. But Cook made sure that the iPhone X was unveiled at the same time as the other two models were, so that customers could decide which new iPhone they wanted. This resulted in many consumers holding off on purchasing a new iPhone until the 10th anniversary model was launched. Apple saw its U.S. market share decline by 7.6 percentage points during the October quarter because of the staggered release dates.
Another difference between Jobs and Cook is that the former thought Apple would do better to introduce fewer new products each year. Cook has pushed out 70 new devices during his tenure as CEO, and since 2007 the company has doubled the number of products it offers. Of the 70 new products released with Cook as CEO, five had delays of three months or more between the product announcement and shipping of the device. Nine products were delayed between one and three months. Under co-founder Jobs, only one new product was delayed by three months, and seven shipped one to three months after the product was introduced.
Some blame the delays on the increasing complexity of Apple’s product line. They also note that instead of sourcing complete parts, Apple is more apt to buy components of these parts and have them assembled by the contract manufacturers that it uses. While this allows Apple to keep costs down, it does require precise coordination between the assembler and the suppliers.