Not long after logging on to order my Apple Watch as pre-orders went live on April 10, it became apparent to me that there was little likelihood that I would get my hands on an Apple Watch on April 24. After some deliberation, I ended up opting for the Apple Watch Sport in space gray with black rubber sport band. I was logged into the system within five minutes of it going live and placed my order. I was surprised to find that shipping times for my Apple Watch had already slipped to 4-6 weeks with a shipping window of May 12 to May 25. The other model that appealed to me, the space black stainless steel model, would not ship until July, while the standard stainless steel model would not be available to ship until June. These supply timeframes, I noted, were all provided inside the first 10 minutes of the Apple Watch being available for pre-order.
Ever since Lunatik released its fantastic watch case
for Apple's sixth-generation iPod nano, I have been keenly awaiting the day that Apple would release something like this. As an early adopter of all things technological, this wait is a little bit painful.
While much has been made about the question about whether we need smartwatches like the Apple Watch, I have been a believer in the concept since first using Lunatik/iPod nano combination, and later Sony's first attempts at a bonafide smartwatch. The fact that Sony has already been reduced to something of an also-ran in this space so quickly after pioneering the smartwatch for a mass audience is certainly a little sad to see. It had done a lot to create its own Android-based version of a smartwatch OS, only to be left with no practical choice but to switch to Google's Android Wear if it is to remain relevant.
I've always appreciated being able to receive notifications of calls and messages from a smartwatch, such as Sony's, as well as well as other functionality like being able to control my smartphone music player remotely. This is more than just a tech writer wanting to stay abreast of advancements in a burgeoning space. With all of the additional functionality available in the Apple Watch, I can't wait to get my hands on it.
Like countless other would-be Apple Watch customers, I feel that I have been somewhat left in the lurch by Apple's supply issues, regardless of the reason why. That said, supply constraints have become synonymous with Apple product launches in recent years. Be it high demand, or rumored yield issues with certain components, getting your hands on a new Apple product at launch can be something of a challenge.
It is isn't exactly clear as to what has caused the gross supply shortfall, but rumors suggest that it may have had to do with a Taptic Engine component sourced from Chinese supplier that was faulty. This apparently was not discovered until late in the development cycle and has apparently resulted in the extended waiting times. Although the term "crazy like a fox" has been applied to Apple, and this may very well be intentional constraints to keep press attention on the new device.
For a company that prides itself on its customer experience, launching a product with availability to be so limited that it is almost non-existent, is hardly an ideal customer experience. When it became abundantly clear that it would not be shipping the Apple Watch in large volumes after it became available for pre-order on April 10, Apple then quietly dropped its long-advertised April 24 launch date from its website. This came after Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed to a disappointed customer that Apple too was "concerned" about the advertised launch date.
If shipping the product to a handful of customers counts as a genuine product launch, Apple met its obligations, as there is no question that some users received theirs on April 24 as originally advertised. For many others, we have been playing the waiting game. I have checked my order status, and it still shows that Apple is "processing" shipment. If it is to get to me by the original supplied shipping date, its status needs to update to "preparing for shipment," and then "shipped," pretty quickly. Capping things off, it is a very strange situation for any Apple product to have "launched," but for it to be unavailable in store for purchase, even in limited quantities.
Yes, I know it's a first-world problem, and it is a nice "problem" to have for Apple, and its shareholders -- but not so much for its customers. However, I expect more from Apple. Perhaps it would have been better that Apple had not introduced the Apple Watch so far ahead of its planned launch when it was revealed in September last year with the promise that it would arrive in "Early 2015." Even better, maybe some acknowledgement that the "release" date was in very limited quantities would have served its customer base better -- but perhaps not its stock price.
Apple was obviously keen to lock up potential smartwatch sales to its competitors over the Christmas period, but "Early 2015" is starting to look like "Mid-to-late 2015," especially if you wanted a specific model. Further, given how quickly technology evolves, it may end up being less than 12 months from now before Apple is in a position to launch Apple Watch 2. A big clue in this regard is that x-rays have shown that the custom Apple Watch S1 chip uses an older 28nm manufacturing process.
There were rumors that Apple wanted to get the Apple Watch to market in late 2013, but was struggling with getting decent battery life out of it; hence the "delay" in not announcing it officially until September last year. The fact that the Apple Watch is using a 28nm process lends some credence to this originally rumored time frame. Apple's A7 processor, that featured in the iPhone 5S, was built on a 28nm process. This technology was being used by Apple in 2013. An Apple Watch S1 chip built on a 28nm process that arrived in late 2013 would have made a lot sense, purely from a technology perspective and given Apple's chip track record.
The Apple A8 processor used in the current iPhone 6, which was launched in September last year, was built on a 20nm process. The Samsung Exynos chip powering the new Galaxy S6 is fabricated on a 14nm process. The main advantage of going to these newer fabrication processes sooner, is that even if chip architecture remains the same, battery life gets a substantial boost with each new generation as the electrons are much closer together, reducing power consumption.
What does this have to do with my Apple Watch order? Given that technology evolves so rapidly, I would have liked to have had my Apple Watch with its 28nm technology a lot sooner than sometime in May 2015. That said, the Android competition is typically running Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 chips which are also built on a 28nm process, so compared to the competition, Apple is at least on par in that regard.
The competition, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live, the first Android Wear watches shipped in July last year. By the time you get that stainless steel space black Apple Watch, it will be exactly one year since the competition hit the market. Nonetheless, the Apple S1 remains a highly impressive piece of engineering, and is certainly more advanced than the Snapdragon 400 in terms of its overall packaging.
Apple already has a famously popular, limited release product -- the annual Worldwide Developer's Conference. The company is up front about the limited nature of that, and has a lottery for the available slots. Perhaps something similar would have been in order for the Apple Watch -- tell consumers that they have so many of this model, so many of that model, and buyers can enter in a lottery for the first batch.
All this said, when Apple is late to market, it is usually worth the wait. I'm just more than a little surprised at how the Apple Watch launch is unfolding -- I can't imagine that it will be a launch model that Apple is keen to ever emulate again. When you have a product that you want to sell to as many customers as you can, you don't want to lose potential sales to the competition, or have customers lose interest in it, simply because you don't have the inventory.
-- Sanjiv Sathiah