What did 16-year-old Josh Joseph want for the holidays? The Melville, N.Y., high school junior wanted Apple AirPods. The same wireless earbuds that he'd been waiting patiently for since October.
“The most fun part of a new product is that exciting feeling of waiting as launch day approaches,” he explained just before the holiday weekend, with thinly veiled exasperation. “So I was let down by the delay, but even more so by Apple’s inability to pin down an exact release date. A company with such wealth and scale should be able to consistently deliver on time, and it's disappointing whenever they don't.”
Joseph was hardly alone. Though a limited quantity of the AirPods made it to market a couple of days before Christmas, a number of other high-profile products announced this fall, including the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone and the GoPro Karma drone, weren’t available for holiday shoppers.
Jonathan Sweetwood, owner of Unique Camera (which sells a variety of audio, video, and photography equipment) in Wayne, N.J., explains that when a consumer decides on a product only to find out that it's not available, it complicates what should be a straightforward transaction. “With some people it’s, ‘I’ve got to have the Apple AirPods,’” Sweetwood says. “But with others, we try to get down to the root of what their needs are and we try to find them a comparable product.”
What’s behind these disappointing product launches? At least part of the blame goes to Wall Street.
According to Jonathan Yarmis, a former electronics analyst with Gartner and now principal analyst with the Yarmis Group, the reason for these product delays is that with an eye toward the stock market’s expectations, companies are compressing their product development cycles.
“Everybody now feels this incredible pressure to come to market quickly,” he explains. “We used to go to CES to find out what products were coming in the coming year. Now you go to CES to see what’s coming on Tuesday.”
Though each product that wasn't available this holiday season followed its own path—some were recalled because of safety problems, and others were merely delayed—Yarmis sees a common theme: an accelerated product development cycle that leaves little time for testing and even less time to fix a problem once it's discovered.
When there's a glitch, Yarmis explains, it often results in finger pointing between competing factions within the company. “You have two conflicting groups within an organization," he says. "The marketing people who are saying 'Now! Yesterday!' and the product development guys who are saying, 'This isn’t simply a matter of issuing a press release. There are technological challenges. There are testing challenges.’”
Increasingly, Yarmis notes, the marketers are winning these intramural battles. What does that mean for you? “The consumer is now the beta tester,” Yarmis says, half jokingly.
As for Joseph, he didn't give up on his quest to make 2016 the year of the AirPod. He searched a site called iStockNow and tracked down a pair at a nearby Apple Store at Long Island's Roosevelt Field Mall.
Here’s a look at five "woulda, coulda, shoulda" products from late 2016 that stumbled on the path from introduction to consumers' hands.
Samsung Galaxy Note7
The Product: Samsung’s top-of-the-line smartphone was introduced in August to compete with the iPhone 7 for this fall’s phone upgraders.
The Problem: Shortly after the introduction, reports began filtering in that the lithium-ion batteries in these phones had begun exploding. That led to a recall, and then when replacement phones also started catching fire, to a second, wider recall that resulted in all of the phones being pulled from the market—sending consumers to other models.
The Resolution: After the recalls—and a Federal Aviation Administration ban on Note7s on airplanes—Samsung finally gave up on introducing a Note7 model, and even took measures to make it impossible to use any Note7 phones still in consumers' hands.
The Product: Apple’s iPhone 7 was largely notable for what it didn’t have: a traditional headphone jack. While Apple fans debated the dongle question, Apple expected that the AirPod wireless earbuds that it announced at the same time would resolve this issue.
The Problem: The iPhone 7 hit the market in October, but the Air Pods remained in limbo. The company kept quietly pushing back the street date. Apple hasn't specified a reason for the delay, and published reports speculated on causes ranging from problems with Bluetooth to manufacturing problems. An Apple spokesman referred us to this statement, issued by the company in October: "The early response to AirPods has been incredible. We don't believe in shipping a product before it's ready, and we need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers."
The Resolution: Though a few lucky and/or resourceful Apple fans will get their AirPods this year, most users will have to wait until 2017.
GoPro Karma Drone
The Product: The Karma, which folds to fit in a backpack, was touted by many as the product that would make drones a mass-market phenomenon.
The Problem: Three weeks after its mid-October introduction, GoPro received reports of several “in-flight failures,” a.k.a. drones falling out of the sky. The good news was that no injuries or property damage were associated with the failures. GoPro, with little help from the FAA or the Consumer Product Safety Commission, neither of which claimed jurisdiction over this issue, began its own recall. (Unlike a recall backed by regulators, the GoPro effort lacked governmental authority behind the effort to remove the product from store shelves.)
The Resolution: The Karma was an important product for the struggling company, so GoPro went the extra mile to appease the consumers it inconvenienced. In addition to a full refund, early adopters of the Karma also got a $300 camera from the company. The Karma is now expected to return to store shelves early in 2017.
DJI Mavic Pro Drone
The Product: This modestly priced personal flying machine was set to vie with the GoPro Karma for a share of the growing market of casual drone users.
The Problem: Partly because of the Karma recall, demand for the Mavic Pro outstripped supply. The company failed to make its aggressive October launch date and reportedly began shipping small quantities of preordered drones in November. Later orders were subject to a backlog of around two months.
The Resolution: Amazon currently lists the release date for the product as Feb. 10, 2017.
Beats by Dr. Dre BeatsX
The Product: Call them AirPods for the fashion conscious. The Beats version of Apple’s wireless earbuds, which share some technology with the AirPods, were also introduced in September and supposed to hit the market a month later.
The Problems: The BeatsX seemed to share the same logistical issues—and the same delays—as the AirPods. The earbuds were scheduled to hit the market in mid-October, but that deadline has quietly slipped. Apple now says the BeatsX will be available in February.
The Resolution: Dr. Dre undoubtedly has his pair already, but for the rest of us, the Beats X should be available in early 2017.
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