Apple’s postponing its much-touted Group FaceTime feature in iOS 12 was a surprise —but really only because the decision was made so close to launch. These days it seems that there is always a feature or a new piece of hardware that gets announced only to be severely delayed.
It’s not a new thing, though: Apple has publicly done this many times. In private, the company’s internal deadlines have extended on devices right back to the original Mac.
Andy Hertzfeld, one of the key creators of the Mac, is quoted in Apple Confidential 2.0 that: “We had been saying, We’re going to finish in six months’ for two years.” He said it about Steve Jobs’s final decision of the shipping date, the absolute, inviolate date and place where the Mac would be launched.
It’s just that his mandate was for May 16, 1983 at the National Computer Conference in Anaheim, California.
The Mac really launched on January 24, 1984 at the Apple Annual Shareholders’ Meeting at the Flint Centre in the De Anza College, Cupertino.
For all the problems this delay caused inside Apple, though, it didn’t make a difference outside. Apple knew not to announce a shipping date and it continued to know that even when under pressure.
So when John Sculley formally backed the Newton project at Apple, he insisted that it must ship on April 2, 1992 but he didn’t say that outside the company. That deadline sailed on by and Sculley didn’t even publicly commit to a new one even when he did publicly announce Newton.
He did that on May 29, 1992 and he did so knowing that Newton wasn’t close to ready. Even though he refused to state a shipping date, this was still the first time that Apple injured itself by announcing a product too far in advance.
By March of 1993, Apple Confidential 2.0 says journalists were practically taunting Apple, asking: “Will it ever be available? Or is Apple going to just keep on announcing that it will be available?”
Apple’s then head of Personal Interactive Electronics, Gaston Bastiaens, replied to that question by saying: “I bet my wine cellar on this: The Newton will be available this summer.”
It actually shipped on August 2, 1993.
It wouldn’t have happened under Steve Jobs
“We’re at 2GHz today,” said Steve Jobs of the then new Power Mac G5 at WWDC 2003. “IBM and Apple are today announcing that within 12 months we’ll be at 3GHz. That’s up 50 percent within 12 months. So believe me, this architecture has legs.”
Flash forward to 2005 and Jobs is standing front of a slide saying 3GHz. “I stood up here two years in front of you and I promised you this,” he said. “And we haven’t been able to deliver that you yet.”
This is an Apple product that was announced and wasn’t just delayed, it never shipped.
If Apple is now more known for announcing products and giving a shipping date months in the future, it’s sometimes because it has no choice.
Starting with the iPhone, Apple’s new devices strayed into heavily regulated territory. The company was legally required to submit the phone to the FCC which takes a certain amount of time to approve or not approve of a product.
What the FCC didn’t do at the time is take any interest in Apple’s wish to be secret.
So since it had to go into FCC testing and since that news would leak, that’s why Apple announced the iPhone when it did. Still, Apple said when it was coming out and it came out exactly as promised.
That isn’t quite what happened with the iPhone 4 —or at least not the white version. That color was announced at the iPhone 4 unveiling on June 7, 2010 with the black model going on sale later that month.
On the day that model came out, Apple said the white one was proving harder to manufacture than expected but would now be released in mid- to late-July. The white iPhone 4 actually shipped in April the following year.
Apple under Tim Cook
More recently, Apple has announced dates and then sometimes only just barely kept them. Most people who bought the 2012 27-inch iMac didn’t get it until 2013, for instance. It was announced as coming by the end of the year but comparatively few shipped and they did so in late December.
Similarly, in September 2014 the company announced Apple Watch and said we’d be able to buy it on April 24, 2015. When that day came, you could certainly pay your money but stocks sold out so fast that even early risers were being told delivery would be in June. Or July. Or August.
Then in 2016 you would definitely be able to buy Apple’s then-new AirPods from late October —until the company’s website changed that to a cautious “coming soon.” The AirPods were next expected in November and then ultimately it was certain that they’d come out in December.
Apple’s AirPods did come out in December. But, not until the 19th and in short supply so Apple missed that Christmas.
They missed the next one, too, this time with the HomePod —which got two different types of delay. The first was in when it initially went on sale. When it was announced in June 2017, the HomePod was scheduled to be released in December in the US, UK and Australia.
It finallycame out in February 2018 . And finally’ is an odd word to use since although you should buy the hardware then, it didn’t do everything that was promised. Specifically, you couldn’t buy two HomePods and have them work together in stereo or across multiple rooms.
That key HomePod feature requires the AirPlay 2 software update which didn’t come until iOS 11.4 on May 29.
It’s not just audio technology that has come with long delays. Apple also touted that support for external GPUs would be a feature of macOS High Sierra —and it is. It just didn’t come until High Sierra was halfway through its year-long lifetime.
Surprising and not surprising
You can’t really criticize Apple for delays when part of the problem is just that fewer things remain secret now. You can’t blame them when legal or regulatory requirements make them announce products sooner than they’d want.
Nor can you blame them for the odd blip when they are constantly producing and radically revising so much hardware and software.
You can, though, wonder how consistently the company misses the Christmas market when it has new products that practically guaranteed big sellers.