April 09, 2012

Article at Hydrapinion

Did Tim Cook jump the gun on iPad 4G?

It’s hard work changing the world, and Apple has normally shouldered the burden well and effectively. But as its latest iPad launch struggles on the branding front, one can’t help but wonder whether the specifications of the third-generation product – just don’t call it 3G – show that an overeager Tim Cook is at risk of damaging the impeccable iPad brand by pandering to the crowds.

Remember that, for many years, one of Apple’s great conceits was that it would give customers the features it felt they needed – not the features that normal competitive pressures would presumably require it to offer.

When the world expected floppy drives, Steve Jobs said it didn’t need them.

When the world expected DVD drives, Steve Jobs said it could live without them.

Tim Cook wants to say 'yes' – but shouldn't be afraid to say 'no'. Picture by Valerie Marchive, CC BY-SA 3.0.

When the world expected Flash, Steve Jobs said it wasn’t really that great.

When the world expected Blu-ray, Steve Jobs offered iTunes instead.

In other words, Steve Jobs built Apple into the roaring success that it now is, by giving people what they needed rather than what they wanted. And yet when pundits and rumour mongers demanded 4G, Tim Cook happily acquiesced.

The thing about 4G is that, despite the enthusiasm, it’s still not mature enough to be a headline feature in a mass-market consumer product. Networks are sparse, coverage inconsistent, and the risk of an inconsistent (and therefore problematic) customer experience is very real. There may be better coverage in Apple's home country – the US – but Apple knows the global market is much bigger. And Apple, a company that values consistency of experience like few others, knows that 4G was always going to be a gamble at this early stage.

Australia's market hasn't helped: witness Telstra’s decision to roll out its LTE services in the 1800MHz band, simply because that’s the spectrum it has available. There may be provisions in the LTE standard to support 1800MHz deployments, but they’re not in use in Apple’s home market, and there’s no way on Earth that Apple would redesign a specific model of iPad just to work in Australia.

Ideally, Apple would have waited another year to release a 4G-capable iPad; given the fact that the devices are moving out the door as fast as Apple can get them made, I’m sure the company would have enjoyed strong ongoing sales.

Yet there are two major issues that pushed the company into an early 4G-capable iPad release.

The first is that Apple’s competitors are already offering 4G capabilities, which naturally makes technology pundits demand that Apple does the same.

Yet this is a false pressure: Apple has resisted perceived competitive pressures in the past to offer products that were seen by spec-watchers as being inadequate, and surprised the naysayers by selling shedloads anyway. Apple could easily have waited another year, silencing the inevitable critics by focusing on user experience and pointing out that 4G is still quite immature and doesn’t offer sufficient benefits to justify a product redesign around it. Heck, Apple has been doing this regarding Blu-ray for years.

The bigger problem is Tim Cook – and I don’t say this in a general sense, since I’m sure he is a nice guy and a competent executive. However, coming in as the second act to the world’s favourite CEO, Cook would have been feeling great pressure to deliver something memorable – and he did.

If the ACCC’s action succeeds and Apple is forced into uncomfortable contrition over the marketing of its current iPad in Australia, this otherwise excellent product may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. And Cook will have had to think, at least somewhere in the back of his mind, that 4G could have waited another generation.

Would you have waited another year for a 4G iPad that just worked with 4G?

[HY14] [Original here]