During the last week of October Apple announced a host of new products; a new Mac Mini, new iMac, new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and the thing everyone watching the keynote was waiting for--the iPad mini. No big surprise there, as the rumor mill had predicted all these products with varying degrees of certainty. But there was a surprise, one more thing if you will - the New iPad, or should I say the new new iPad less than seven months after releasing the third generation iPad, Apple has released the fourth generation iPad. This update was understandably disconcerting for some owners of the now “old” iPad.
But picture this: You make the best selling desktop computer in the nation. You make the best selling laptop computer in the nation. You make the best selling smartphone in the nation. You own the tablet market, which it could be said, you created. Pretty sweet deal huh?
But success brings unintended consequences, and you have to deal with lots of those. Not the least of which is your corporation has fans. Yeah, your products, they amaze and delight, they create a childlike sense of wonder in your users, and as a result, your corporation is followed like a rock star 24/7. In part, you like this, because it means billions of dollars of free advertising. The downside? All of your fans want backstage passes --all the time.
They want to know everything! They want to know what’s coming out next, what’s in it, what it’s going to cost. This used to not be such a big deal until the web, another blessing/curse you have to deal with, made everyone a “journalist.” If you let them, these “journalists” would storm the gates of your not so secret Willy Wonka HQ and tell all. But you can’t allow that to happen.
Creating digital devices that amaze, delight and imbue their users with a childlike sense of wonder is--by necessity--a super secretive process. Once the fans see the man behind the curtain, they loose The Great and Powerful Oz, and you can’t have that. But the fans hunger and the “journalists” get fed by feeding them. The web also makes this harder because it makes everyone in your global supply chain, or anyone with clausal contact with them, a potential tipster to the “journalists.” The twisted part is your marvelous mobile devices makes sharing these tips all the easier.
All this “sharing” is creating another problem for you. It screws with your earnings and you love earnings. Once the fans and the “journalists” get wise to the idea that a new magical device is coming out they stop buying the existing magical device because it is about to become the old magical device. And an old magical device is, well, just less magical. Back in the day when the fan base was small, this was not such a big deal. Plus, it made the fans feel special to be in the know. But now you are The Beatles of the Tech Industry, and if anyone ever questions you on that remind them you bought The Beatles’ label. So now it’s not just the fans and the poser fans, it’s everybody who knows this. That’s a problem.
Another way the “sharing” creates a problem for you is one of the groups watching is your competition. All this sharing means they get crowd sourced industrial espionage. As a result, even before you bring out the shinny new magical device, they have it copied or have taken the bits they like best.
In a case like this there is only one thing to do. Stop rolling the magical devices out on an orderly annual cycle. When you have the chance to iterate, you take it. New faster chips are ready - so put ‘em in. Better Gorilla Glass comes off the line - make it so. Oh sure every year or so you may tweak the design, but really we are talking rectangles here so it’s not like we are talking about big aesthetic changes. You’ve been doing something like this with the laptops and desktops for years now, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But it will. The fans will freak a bit the first time you do this because their state of the art magical device very quickly become the "old" magical device. But they will get over it, and in a year, this will be the new normal. Everyone will have a magical device, and people will be less freaked as new new magical devices keep on coming. There will be a few blessed souls who will always have to have the newest magical device, but they’ll find their way.
This change is good for you because you have seen the numbers and know that people are upgrading a little less frequently. The tablets and phones are starting to mature as a product, and suddenly last year’s model is still surprisingly useful, and some would dare say just as magical. This change will bode well for you, and the fans will happily continue to consume media from the magical device, and the competition is less likely to know where you are headed in six months. If they do, at least you will have made them invest some of their own capital in some good old fashioned industrial espionage.
Get the picture? Good, because I have got something to tell you. The rumor has it the iPhone 5s may already in the works.
UPDATE: 1/28/13 Apple Will Start Selling A 128GB iPad Next Week. Just as predicted above.