Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Making the Worst of a Bad Thing

Apple announced on Friday that the HomePod’s release would be delayed until next year and, of course, that made some people fear the worst. Like ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, who claims that this delay means that Apple has “[slipped] closer to becoming ‘just another tech company’”:

Apple didn’t go into any details as to why it had to delay the release beyond a very vague “we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers.” For a product that was demoed on stage back in June at WWDC isn’t ready almost five months later, and won’t be until some “early 2018.”

Incidentally, the HomePod was not demoed on stage at WWDC. It was announced on stage and a few press outlets were given private demos, but those publications were allowed limited access and — something I believe is critical — they weren’t allowed to test Siri.

Apple was in in similar situation last year with the AirPods, although the company did manage to get them out of the door just before Christmas.

Delaying products that would be pretty great gifts is regrettable, but I don’t know that having limited quantities of AirPods available last year registers on the same scale as having the HomePod being entirely unavailable until next year.

Here’s a counterargument to Kingsley-Hughes’ narrative: the iPhone X was released in larger quantities than rumours suggested, and Apple has been bumping up shipping estimates across the board. If you tried ordering one just a week or two ago, you would have seen shipping estimates of 5–6 weeks; now, shipping times are at 2–3 weeks, and I’ve always found that Apple beats those estimates in practice.

As much as I don’t want to bring up the tired old “Apple wouldn’t have done this under Steve Jobs’ watch” trope, a lot of what’s happening at Apple lately is different from what the came to expect under Jobs. Not to say that things didn’t go wrong under his watch, but product announcements and launches felt a lot tighter for sure, as did the overall quality of what Apple was releasing.

Remember the white iPhone 4 debacle? That happened under Jobs’ watch, as did MobileMe and buggy x.0 releases of iOS. They were embarrassing for the company, and I’m sure Apple works hard to not repeat the same mistakes.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve had an article in draft for a while in which I complain about a lot of bugs in iOS 11. I’ve hesitated to publish it because it just sounded whiny, and it wouldn’t age well. And, it turns out, there was an advantage to my delinquency: in the two months since its release, Apple has issued several small patches to iOS 11 which have dramatically improved its stability and fixed lots of the issues I wrote about.

For what it’s worth, I think iOS 11 was released too soon. I think the artificial September deadline bit Apple in the ass as they tried to wrap up overhauls of major system components — especially Springboard. It’s not just the fault of the iPhone X, either; many of the improvements to iPad multitasking this year required big updates to systemwide processes. But I also think that there’s a welcome commitment to releasing smaller updates more frequently. Of course we all want the x.0 release to be as stable and bug-free as possible, but I’m glad Apple has reduced their tendency to leave bugs — at least on iOS — hanging for months until they popped out an x.1 update.

Don’t mistake my attempt at combatting the Jobs trope for complacency in bugs and hardware release dates. The delay of the HomePod is unfortunate and would have been easily prevented by not announcing it months in advance, even if they thought a December ship date was likely. I hope the iMac Pro isn’t similarly delayed. I’d love to see a bit more of that old Apple magic again where desirable products are available to buy or preorder the same day they’re announced. Yet, I simply don’t think this is cause for the kind of concern that Kingsley-Hughes is raising.