Sorry, Apple, but your decision to delay introducing iPads internationally doesn’t wash. Your excuse — that US demand was unexpectedly high and, as a result, you had to prioritize customers stateside until production could catch up — is about as shallow and transparent as a Petri Dish full of Joost’s good ideas.
I don’t believe Apple’s flimsy excuse and I don’t believe anyone else should, either. If you think that Apple, master of the consumer electronics zeitgeist, was unable to accurately predict epic interest in a tablet whose existence was first speculated upon prior to the Battle of Hastings, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. (It’s in Saskatoon, but it’s a nice one.) And if you think Apple was somehow precluded from filling its global supply chain with as many iPads as its magic wand could conjure, I suggest you chuck the Kool-Aid and find yourself a tall glass of juice. Prune juice, maybe.
All the time in the world
All right, I may be a little bitter because of the fact that I live on the wrong side of the border between Canada and iPad-ville. If I want an iPad of my own, I’ll just have to schedule a day trip. However, those who’ve already beaten me across the customs gate have reported a range of issues accessing content from iTunes and iBooks. Even in its current Wi-Fi-only form, the iPad knows enough to thwart the efforts of conspiring non-Americans who may, try as they might to flout Apple’s carefully laid plans.
As much as the perpetual Canadian in me hates to admit it, time is clearly on Apple’s side. Despite the rush of tablet-like announcements from major vendors since the iPad was first revealed in January, it has no natural competitors just yet. And even if these other vendors like HP, Dell, Toshiba and, if the stars align and we hold our breath just so, Microsoft bring their own tablets to market before Apple’s (say it with me) “shortage” is resolved, no competitor will have anything approaching the iPad’s momentum for some time to come, if ever.
With this in mind, it’s not as if the majority of motivated consumers will bolt the line and buy something else. Whoever wants to pay the early adopter premium for an iPad (and that’s not even taking into account the four-figure “deals” that have just mystee-e-riously sprung up on eBay) will lay that money down, regardless of how much or how long the wait. Apple’s carefully cultivated do-no-wrong aura enables it to get away with things other companies could only dream of.
An unhappy double standard
If Sony pre-announced a tablet and then failed to deliver, critics would ask for Sir Howard Stringer’s head on a plate. (That’s assuming it wasn’t already on a plate after the reported delay of 3D Blu-ray for the PS3.) If Microsoft did the same thing, the usual Steve Ballmer-bashing and Google News headline-gaming (“Microsoft Clowns Epic Tablet Fail: Bozo Ballmer Holds Earth Hostage for One Month”) would soon be eclipsed by a hearty round of indifference. For companies with less consumer cachet than Apple, delays of this nature would quickly ruin any market momentum…or stop it from accumulating in the first place.
I don’t begrudge Apple’s decision to engage in this little bit of marketing subterfuge. The company has earned the right to subscribe to this double standard, and it’s keenly aware of how to leverage it in its strategic marketing plan.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, Apple’s brand/product management panache and polish isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. From where I sit, Apple’s move is a somewhat cynical, and perhaps morally questionable, means of dealing with consumers outside the US. If my Kindergarten teacher were still with us, she’d advise Apple to fess up and admit this was part of its plan all along. (Then she’d offer everyone milk and cookies.)
I’m being deliberately obtuse, of course. No one ever said global consumer electronics marketing had to be moral or nice. Nice guys often do finish last in this business (that could be the title of Gary Kildall’s life story), and Apple didn’t get to where it is today by waiting patiently in line while the Kindergarten teacher handed out the day’s ration of chocolate chip cookies. No rules have been violated here, and no one deserves to be punished. But the ease with which market-dominant companies like Apple can manipulate consumer opinion should give us pause.
Have we become the herd?
How is it that so many have allowed one company to dictate the agenda by which they buy their stuff? Apple firmly controls the where, the when, and the how much. Consumers who have elevated Apple on a pedestal to the exclusion of all other alternatives have allowed themselves to be herded like sheep, while it plays fast and loose with the calendar, their wallets, and to a growing extent, their livelihoods.
Sure, international buyers can simply walk away and head over to the friendly HP kiosk (I hear the upcoming Slate will have an SD card slot, after all, and HP also sells a small selection of convertible laptops) but do they really want to spend the next couple of years explaining to their older, smarter brothers and savvier, younger bosses why the (cheaper) device they picked is better than an iPad? As much as we want to see a vibrantly competitive market for tablet-like devices and related services, for the foreseeable future, it’s The Apple Show Starring Steve Jobs. And in the absence of any serious competitor, this show is likely to go on for quite a while.
Time wounds all heels
In a little over a month, this episode of history will be set aside. Apple will release the floodgates, thus magically spilling a suddenly ample supply of product to a weary, parched world of have-nots. Yea, and they shall become satisfied, and in their inebrium they will forget that they were played like pawns. More ominously, the precedent will have been set. And the next time Apple, or any other potentially popular consumer-facing company, decides to juggle global availability to generate more headlines, hype, and pent-up demand, it’ll be that much easier to pull this play out of the playbook and execute it again.
Don’t say we weren’t warned, and don’t say we didn’t allow ourselves to be put in this position. Because if consumers refused to simply accept flimsy excuses like Apple’s at face value, and would just walk away from the long, long line rather than let themselves be mesmerized like cats with multi-colored yarn dangling in front of their faces, none of this would matter.
Carmi Levy is a Canadian-based independent technology analyst and journalist still trying to live down his past life leading help desks and managing projects for large financial services organizations. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.