You'd think that Apple would have mastered the whole hot-product distribution channel thing, but last Friday's iPad 2 launch is turning out to be one of its biggest fiascos since the great AT&T Activation fiasco of 2008.
Although there are more, here are five things that Apple botched with the iPad 2 launch:
1. No pre-orders. Several rumors floated around as to why Apple didn't allow pre-orders for the iPad 2 -- like it did for the iPad 1: 1) launch inventory was less than expected, 2) a component was to blame, 3) Apple wanted to save inventory for its retail stores. Either way, bad move. Apple should allow a certain amount of pre-orders, tell everyone what the number is and assign tickets in a lottery system. What about requiring pre-orders from its app? Heck, make a game out of it!
2. No information. Be transparent. Apple should tell customers (in general terms) how many units are available and how they're being allocated. Like the cool iPhone availability tracker Apple added to its Web site in '08 and '09:
3. The lines. Apple knows that people are going to line up outside its retail stores (sometimes overnight) to buy its latest gear. Figure out a system (wristbands?) that's fair and cut off the line. It's pretty simple actually, if you have 200 units at a given store, and people are allowed to by two units each (arguably a bad idea), an employee should have a heart-to-heart talk with person #101 in line -- and everyone behind them. Why make people wait outside unnecessarily? Maybe an iOS app to track inventory in real-time? Ya think?
4. Bad Buyers. Apple has to weed out shill buyers paid by the hour by grey marketers to buy iPads. There's a growing problem of scalpers gaming the system by paying broke immigrants to buy iPad 2's to be shipped overseas. I haven't seen mine yet, but the iPad 2 is already on sale in China, Dubai and Hong Kong -- and eBay, natch. Should Apple go back to requiring a credit card when inventory is constrained? One per billing address? I'm sure what the answer is here... (chime in in the TalkBack).
5. Over promise, Under-deliver? I dutifully ordered my iPad 2 (black/64/AT&T/no engraving) on Apple's Web site at 12:59am ET -- one minute before they were officially due to go on sale and was told that it "Ships: 3-5 business days." It's Thursday and if you count Friday as a business day today is the fifth day and it still hasn't shipped. Apple usually under-promises and over-delivers and this could be a black mark on its otherwise stellar reputation.
We've seen much better from Apple and all it takes is a little transparency and communication to maintain a good relationship with its loyal customer base. What probably irks me most is that a "technology company" like Apple doesn't allow its customers to track its orders from Shenzhen to their door. Why isn't there an app for that?