Last Wednesday, Apple unveiled its latest phone, the iPhone 7 and 7s. Notably, there is no headphone jack but, you can buy Apple’s forthcoming AirPods to go with the phone. It's a $159 pair of wireless earbuds that is somewhat awkwardly named and looking. The news wasn’t exactly surprising, but the outcry online was swift. This is the company that invented the iPod. The AirPods are tiny. Memes like these began circulating. The media reported on Apple’s presentation. Then it reported on the memes. Over the past few days, product reviews have begun flooding in. Do the Pods stay in? How do they sound? How much faster, longer lasting, and water-resistant are the iPhone 7 and 7s really? Is the market for "contextual artificial intelligence" about to boom? And how about that camera?
It’s all anyone can talk about. And, in a sense, Apple is doing it live: You can’t buy the AirPods -- not yet. According to the company’s website, they won’t be available for purchase until “late October.” In his review, Tech Crunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino was quick to point that out. “Right off the bat, all of the following should be qualified by the fact that the review of AirPods I was given are pre-production models. Since they go on sale later in the year, the final batches are not yet rolling off the assembly lines,” wrote Panzarino several paragraphs into his enthusiastic review. In "The New York Times," Brian Chen reported, “An Apple spokeswoman said the company was looking into the podcast issue, adding that the AirPods I tested were early hardware and that bugs should be resolved by the time they are released next month.”
The reviews I read are mixed. More importantly, we’re captivated. Apple has our attention, that’s for sure. Are the Pods a perfect product? No. Apple knows that. I think it’s a smart move. Talk about free advertising. The Pods are in the hands of influencers everywhere. Social media is all over it. I mean, I was even asked by the editors of this website to write this article. That’s incredible. Talk about word-of mouth. Yes, there are those who are upset and complaining. There always are. That’s perfectly normal. But others are going to love and embrace Apple’s wireless vision.
Then again, bad reviews spread like wildfire these days. They can easily kill a product before it gets off the ground.
I think, ultimately, you have to assess the risk.
When I worked at the toy startup Worlds of Wonder in the late 80s, we launched Teddy Ruxpin, the talking teddy bear, before we were ready. We hadn't fully worked out all of the kinks. In fact, we knew consumers were going to have problems. But Christmas was right around the corner. If we missed the holiday season… well, that was it. We were sunk. But, sure enough, after working days on end, we met our commitment to all of the major retailers we had agreements with. But boy were there problems afterwards.
Sure enough, some of the Teddy’s did not work like advertised. But according to management, losing out on the holiday season would have been far more disastrous. So we set up a Teddy "hospital" and told consumers to mail their bears in to be mended if they malfunctioned. We took a chance. And it worked out. Teddy Ruxpin became a hit. We had no choice.
Most new products are going to have a few problems. The best approach is to acknowledge and then fix them as quickly as possible. It appears Apple is doing that.
Sometimes you have to launch first to really own a category.
I feel like I read about fantastic-sounding, buzz-generating products that many moons later have yet to be brought to market on social media pretty often as of late. It can be frustrating. Where are these wonderful products?
Being first to market is important. And if you’re able to handle the complaints that inevitably come in after launching too soon, you can limit your exposure.
But I would still think long and hard about the benefits of doing so. Is it worth it? Maybe.